Law & the Courts

In Tennessee, a Federal Judge Disenfranchises Pro-Life Voters


No one should ever doubt the Left’s commitment to abortion. For the sake of preserving the right to kill an unborn child, the Left will sacrifice democracy and even reason itself. Pro-life lawyers have a term for liberal judges’ tendency to twist the Constitution for the cause of death — the “abortion distortion.” The latest example comes from Nashville, Tenn., where an Obama-appointee federal judge just wrote perhaps the least credible judicial opinion I’ve ever read.

But first, some background. Before the 2014 election, Tennessee, one of America’s most conservative and religious states, had become the South’s abortion supermarket, all because of a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that declared that the Tennessee constitution protected the “right” to an abortion to a greater degree than did even Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Consequently, even if a pro-life law would have passed federal constitutional muster, Tennessee state courts would strike it down.

Tennessee voters responded by passing Amendment 1 — a pro-life constitutional amendment that reversed the state’s high court and unequivocally declared that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

Tennessee’s amendment process is arduous. First, a proposed amendment has to pass with a majority in both houses. Then, after the next legislative election, the amendment has to pass with a two-thirds majority. Finally, it comes before the people. But even there an amendment faces a double hurdle. It has to pass with a majority of the vote, and the “yes” votes have to equal a “majority of all the citizens of the state voting for Governor.”

For decades, Tennessee officials have interpreted this rule as merely requiring that the total “yes” vote exceed half of the total gubernatorial vote. In other words, a person could vote yes on the amendment and still have their vote count even if they didn’t vote for governor. In fact, amendment proponents expressly told voters that they could pursue exactly this strategy — they didn’t have to vote for governor to have their vote count.

RELATED: What Happened to ‘Safe, Legal, and Rare’? Abortion Today Is About Profit, Profit, Profit

After their loss, pro-abortion leftists sued in federal court, making the astonishing claim that this process violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Why? Because it didn’t give the “no” side enough advantages in the fight against the amendment. They claimed that Tennessee’s process violated their right to “participate on an equal basis with other citizens in the jurisdiction.” They also claimed that the Tennessee Constitution required election officials to count only the votes of people who voted for governor. So if you wanted your vote to count for the amendment, you had to vote for governor.

#share#On Friday, Judge Kevin Sharp did what liberal federal judges do: found a way to rule for abortion rights. He backed the plaintiffs, holding that the traditional manner of counting votes for constitutional amendments violated both the state and the federal constitutions. He then ordered a statewide recount, in which only the votes of those who voted in both the amendment contest and the gubernatorial race would be counted.

Judge Kevin Sharp did what liberal federal judges do: found a way to rule for abortion rights.

In an opinion full of insulting asides and other potshots at amendment supporters, Sharp claimed that the votes of those who voted in the governor’s race but against the amendment were “not given the same weight” as those who voted for Amendment 1 but did not vote in the governor’s race. In other words, he claimed that a voter who did not vote for governor but did vote for the amendment had more influence over the process than a voter who chose to vote in both elections. Yet that additional influence was the product not of discrimination but of voter choice, of deliberate voting strategy.

The judge’s solution to this fabricated problem was to give the votes of those who voted for the amendment but not for governor no weight at all. In other words, his concern for voting rights (he called the right to vote “precious” and “fundamental”) was so strong that he just went ahead and disenfranchised thousands of voters who relied on longstanding state-government interpretations of its own constitution. Moreover, he signaled that even if a recount shows that the amendment would still pass under his new, judicially created standard, he may still rule that the election itself should be voided.

#related#When I was in law school, one of my radical leftist professors declared that the role of a judge was to first determine the “right” result, then to manipulate law and precedent to justify the pre-ordained outcome. He turned the process of judicial reasoning on its head, and my classmates loved it.

Abortion jurisprudence is the product of exactly this ideology. Sexual revolutionaries aren’t just professors, activists, and lawmakers. Some are robed Robespierres, and you can always count on them to protect the culture of death. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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