Just a day after a state court judge ruled in favor of the state’s process for counting and ratifying votes on proposed amendments to the state constitution, a federal judge has ordered a recount of ballots on pro-life Amendment 1 and declared that some votes in support of the amendment be thrown out. At question is the interpretation of Article XI, Section 3 of the state Constitution which now places state and federal judges favoring different readings of the same clause.
On Thursday, Williamson County Circuit County Judge Michael Binkley, sitting as Chancellor, ruled that there is no constitutional restriction or precondition on the right of a citizen to vote for or against a constitutional amendment and also voting in the gubernatorial election.
On Friday, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Kevin Sharp countered by ordering a recount of the Amendment 1 votes and affirming the arguments of Planned Parenthood plaintiffs that the manner of counting votes, specifically on Amendment 1, violates undue process and equal protections clauses of the U.S. Constitution. As such, Sharp has ordered state election officials to prepare a timetable for a recount of the votes on Amendment 1.
In response, the state’s leading pro-life organization issued the following: “Tennessee Right to Life shares the view that the historic method of counting the votes and ratifying the results on Amendment 1 was followed in the exact way as every other amendment approved by the voters of our state,” said Brian Harris, president of the organization. “Having wasted millions of dollars trying to defeat Amendment 1 at the polls, Planned Parenthood is now asking the federal courts to do their dirty work and to steal the votes of hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans who voted yes on 1,” Harris said.
“That’s neither right nor fair and we remain confident that the will of the people will ultimately be upheld.”
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Pro-abortion lawyers representing local Planned Parenthood Board Chair Tracey George argued that efforts by some pro-life advocates to encourage an under-vote in the governor’s race in order to favor passage of Amendment 1 had violated the constitutional manner for amending the constitution. Neither Tennessee Right to Life nor the YES on 1 ballot committee encouraged or promoted such an under-vote as a means of passing Amendment 1.
It is unclear what effect the state court’s ruling may have on the ultimate outcome of the federal case but one possibility is that all voter-approved amendments will be challenged as a result of the pro-abortion lawsuit against Amendment 1. “You can’t discriminate against one set of voters because you don’t like the outcome of an election and expect that it won’t have implications for other amendments passed by the exact same process and procedures,” Harris warned.