NASHVILLE -- Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery served notice today that the state will appeal a U.S. District judge's ruling requiring a recount on the vote in a successful 2014 state constitutional amendment that made it easier for the state Legislature to enact new abortion restrictions.
"We obviously disagree with the federal court's decision," said Harlow B. Sumerford, Slatery's spokesman, in a statement. "Simply put, deciding what vote is required to amend the Tennessee Constitution is a matter of state law to be determined by a Tennessee Court."
U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp on Friday ruled in a case challenging the 2014 amendment approved by a majority of Tennesseans that the method used to tabulate votes on the amendment was "fundamentally unfair" to eight Tennesseans who filed a lawsuit.
The amendment stripped the state constitution of all protections for abortion as previously determined in a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that declared the document provides for a "fundamental" right to privacy. That standard is harder to overcome than the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
Tennessee's Constitution requires approval of amendments be made "by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor." Eight Tennesseans who support abortion rights later filed suit in federal court, alleging an effort by some abortion opponents to ask voters to skip the governor's race made it easier for them to meet the standard.
They maintained that the state incorrectly interpreted the way the votes should be counted and tallied them in favor of abortion opponents. But others and now Slatery say that's the way the 172-year-old sentence has always been interpreted.
"Simply put," Sumerford said in his statement, "deciding what vote is required to amend the Tennessee Constitution is a matter of state law to be determined by a Tennessee court. This has been the State's position from the outset of this litigation."
He noted a state judge in Williamson County last week issued an opinion that backed the state's "long-standing interpretation of how state constitutional amendments are ratified and approved."
Since the enactment of the constitutional change, the Tennessee General Assembly has enacted a number of restrictions they formerly were barred from considering. The state remains bound by the provisions of the Roe v. Wade ruling.