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Stories about Tennessee

Funk defeats Myers, Nellis in Nashville District Attorney Democratic primary

Incumbent Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk defeated Sara Beth Myers and P. Danielle Nellis in the May 3 Democratic primary for that position. Funk received 43.4% of the vote, while Sara Beth Myers and P. Danielle Nellis received 40% and 16.6%, respectively. No Republicans filed to run in the Republican primary, leaving Funk without a challenger in the Aug. 4 general election. 

Funk was elected to an eight-year term in 2014. If he wins in the general election, his term will last through 2030. 

During the campaign, Funk said he was “the only candidate in this race that has a record to run on, and I’m proud of the record that I’ve run on.” Funk said his record included prosecuting domestic violence cases and offering better support for victims, declining to prosecute cases involving small amounts of marijuana, and declining to enforce a state law he said restricts abortion. 

Myers, who worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice, campaigned on crime prevention, civil rights advances, and restorative justice. Nellis, who clerked for a Nashville judge and worked as an assistant district attorney in Funk’s office, campaigned on criminal justice reform and public safety. Myers and Nellis ran on changing the criminal justice system and stopping what they said had been a rise in crime. 

Myers and Nellis criticized Funk for how he handled the prosecution of Andrew Delke in a case that received national attention. Delke was a Nashville police officer who, on July 26, 2018, shot Daniel Hambrick, a Black man, during a traffic stop. Funk charged Delke with criminal homicide, making Delke the first Nashville police officer to be charged with an on-duty murder. Shortly before the case was set to go to trial, Delke pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in return for a reduced sentence. Funk said he accepted the plea deal because he did not believe he could get a conviction in a trial. Nellis said she would have taken the case to trial, while Myers said Funk mishandled the entire case.

Nashville, Tennessee’s largest city, is the county seat of Davidson County, Tennessee.



New Tennessee ballot measure to change constitutional language on clergy serving in the General Assembly

Tennessee’s 112th General Assembly adjourned and certified a new constitutional amendment to put onto the ballot on April 28. This amendment would remove a section of Tennessee’s Constitution that disqualifies religious ministers from being elected into the Tennessee General Assembly.

The newly certified amendment will join three others already certified to be on the ballot in Tennessee.

If voters approve it in November, the amendment would remove Section 1 of Article IX of Tennessee’s constitution, which bans ministers and priests from serving in the Tennessee General Assembly. The text of the amendment is written below:

Whereas ministers of the Gospel are by their profession, dedicated to God and the care of souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their functions; therefore, no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature.

During the 18th and 19th century, thirteen states, including Tennessee, had provisions in their constitution forbidding clergy from serving in the state legislature. Many of these bans were carried over from English law. Eleven states–Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia–have amended their constitutions and dropped these provisions during the late 1700’s and 1800’s. Maryland and Tennessee kept these provisions in their constitutions into the 20th century.

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Tennessee law was unconstitutional in its McDaniel v. Paty ruling because it violated the first amendment. That same year, Maryland put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to remove the provision from their constitution, and voters approved to remove it. 

Tennessee is the only state left with this kind of provision left in their constitution.

To amend the constitution in Tennessee, state legislators must vote on a measure and approve it before putting it on the ballot. In Tennessee, this is done by both chambers of the General Assembly voting on the measure in two consecutive sessions with an election in between. For the first session, the measure must receive a simple majority vote of over 50%, and the second time around, the measure must receive a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

This constitutional amendment was introduced in February of 2019 as Senate Joint Resolution 178. Both chambers of Tennessee’s General Assembly then voted unanimously in favor of the amendment–the Senate voting in favor in 2019, and the House voting in favor in 2020. The amendment was then introduced to its second legislative session in 2021, where it was approved by both chambers. The Senate approved of the amendment on April 8, 2021, and on April 27, 2022, the House voted 89-1 to approve the amendment. The measure will now go to voters on election day in November.

This measure will join three other constitutional amendments already on the Tennessee ballot. All ballot measures are listed below:

  • A right-to-work amendment that mandates that no person can be required to pay dues to a labor union or join a labor union as a condition of employment.
  • An amendment to repeal language allowing slavery or indentured servitude as criminal punishments.
  • An amendment that provides a process and line of succession for the governor if they become disabled.
  • An amendment that removes the banning of clergy from serving in the General Assembly.

Voters approved each of the 11 constitutional amendments on the Tennessee ballot since 1995. Tennessee voters last decided on constitutional amendments in 2014.

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Three candidates are running in the May 3 Democratic primary for Nashville District Attorney

Three candidates are running in the May 3 Democratic primary for Davidson County District Attorney: incumbent Glenn Funk, Sara Beth Myers, and P. Danielle Nellis. Funk was elected to an eight-year term in 2014.

Nashville, Tennessee’s largest city, is the county seat of Davidson County.

Funk has said he is “the only candidate in this race that has a record to run on, and I’m proud of the record that I’ve run on.” Myers and Nellis have run on changing the criminal justice system and stopping what they say has been a rise in crime. Myers has said, “[t]he DA’s office has to change and be proactive instead of reactive.” Nellis has said, “[w]e have not seen sufficient change in the last eight years to justify another eight.”

Myers and Nellis have criticized Funk for how he handled the prosecution of Andrew Delke in a case that received national attention. Delke was a Nashville police officer who, on July 26, 2018, shot Daniel Hambrick, a Black man, during a traffic stop. Funk charged Delke with criminal homicide, making Delke the first Nashville police officer to be charged with an on-duty murder. Shortly before the case was set to go to trial, Delke pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in return for a reduced sentence. Funk said he accepted the plea deal because he did not believe he could get a conviction in a trial. Nellis said she would have taken the case to trial, while Myers said Funk mishandled the entire case.

Funk said he’s helped “restore public confidence in the criminal justice system by effectively prosecuting violent crime while focusing on treatment and rehabilitation for low-level, nonviolent offenders.” Funk said his record includes prosecuting domestic violence cases and offering better support for victims, declining to prosecute cases involving small amounts of marijuana, and declining to enforce a state law he said restricts abortion.

Myers, who worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice, has campaigned on crime prevention, civil rights advances, and restorative justice. Myers proposes breaking the district attorney’s office “into precincts and assign[ing] assistant DAs to precincts so that they get to know the communities that they’re serving.”

Nellis, who clerked for a Nashville judge and worked as an assistant district attorney in Funk’s office, has campaigned on criminal justice reform and public safety. Nellis’ campaign released a 15-page policy handbook that includes policies like expanding pre-trial services, diversity, equity, and inclusion training for prosecutors, and creating what Nellis calls neighborhood courts. Nellis said: “We know that most criminal behavior is trauma response. So how are we addressing whatever the underlying trauma is, including poverty, which has been studied and determined to be a traumatic experience? How are we addressing that as a community and the way you do that?”

No Republicans filed in the Republican primary.



Tennessee legislature passes bill to prohibit teaching certain divisive concepts in higher education

The Tennessee legislature on March 30 passed a bill that aims to prohibit an individual’s views on critical race theory from influencing decisions about hiring, tenure, promotion, or graduation in the state’s higher education institutions. 

House Bill 2670 would “prohibit a public institution of higher education from taking certain actions with regard to divisive concepts and the ideologies or political viewpoints of students and employees.” 

Tennessee state Rep. Ron Grant (R) released the following statement on the bill: “Any curriculum promoting the narrative that white privilege or racism is alive and well in Tennessee does not accurately reflect our state, our public education system or its residents. Our students deserve much better. This bill empowers employees and students of all races on our college campuses to think for themselves free from fear of discrimination and without being coerced to embrace any specific ideology or political viewpoint.” 

Opponents of HB 2670 argue it is an attack on what they describe as marginalized communities. “To take students’ ability to learn about those things away is not right,” said Tennessee State Senator London Lamar (D). Lamar added, “Most courses on diversity or issues regarding racism or gender studies are electives so you can choose to take those classes.”

The House voted 66-24 to approve the bill and the Senate followed with a 25-5 vote. The bill was pending further action by Gov. Bill Lee (R) as of March 30.



Tennessee enacts new state legislative districts

Tennessee enacted new state legislative districts on Feb. 6, 2022, when Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a proposal approved by both legislative chambers into law. The maps will take effect for Tennessee’s 2022 state legislative elections.

The Senate Ad-Hoc Committee released a proposed Senate district map on Jan. 13. On Jan. 18, the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended the proposal for consideration by the full Senate in a 7-2 vote along party lines, with all Republicans supporting the proposal and all Democrats opposing it. The Senate approved an amended version of the plan in a 26-5 party-line vote on Jan. 20, and the House voted 71-26 to approve the new districts on Jan. 26.

The Tennessee House Select Committee on Redistricting approved a proposal for House districts, HB 1035, on Dec. 17. After approving an amendment to the bill, the House passed the plan on Jan. 24 in a 70-27 vote. On Jan. 26, the Senate voted 23-6 to approve the state House plan without making amendments.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R) said, “We feel like the maps are legal and defensible both from a statutory and constitutional standpoint.” Rep. John Ragan (R) said the state legislative maps accurately reflect the growing population of the state. “We have worked well together in a bipartisan manner to draw the lines of redistricting in a way that is fair and equitable and have invested much time and effort into ensuring that every district is properly represented,” said Ragan.

Rep. Gloria Johnson (D), who would not reside in her current district under the new maps, said, “The supermajority in Nashville drew a ridiculous, partisan gerrymander to take my house out of the district I represent.” Rep. Torrey Harris (D), whose district was combined with that of Rep. London Lamar (D) said, “It sends a strong message when you combine the two youngest representatives into one district, diluting a successful pool of young leadership.”

As of Feb. 8, 2022, 32 states have adopted legislative district maps for both chambers, and one state has adopted maps that have not yet gone into effect. The state supreme courts in two states have overturned previously enacted maps, and 15 states have not yet adopted legislative redistricting plans after the 2020 census. As of Feb. 8, 2012, 37 states had enacted legislative redistricting plans after the 2010 census.

Nationwide, states have completed legislative redistricting for 1,338 of 1,972 state Senate seats (67.8%) and 3,158 of 5,411 state House seats (58.3%).

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Tennessee enacts new congressional districts

Tennessee enacted new congressional districts on Feb. 6 when Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed the legislature’s approved proposal into law. Tennessee was apportioned nine seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census, the same number it received after the 2010 census. This map will take effect for Tennessee’s 2022 congressional elections.

The House Select Committee on Redistricting released a congressional map proposal on Jan. 12 and another on Jan. 18. On Jan. 18, the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended a congressional district proposal for consideration by the full Senate in a 7-2 vote along party lines. All Republicans supported the proposal and all Democrats opposed it. The Senate approved the proposal 26-5 on Jan. 20, and the House approved it 70-26 on Jan. 24. 

Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Marsh (R) said the congressional map was compliant with all federal and state laws and splitting Davidson County was beneficial to the area. “In the last 10 years, Davidson County has had one congressman in Washington, D.C. In this proposed plan, they will have three. I think that’s three times as good, three times more representation,” Marsh said. Gov. Lee said he believed the legislature “made every effort to follow the law” in drafting the maps and saw “no reason that I wouldn’t be signing it.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D), who announced his retirement on Jan. 25, said, “This is a crisis for Nashville. Gerrymandering is an extinction event for the political life of Nashville.” Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro (D) said the map would likely be challenged in court: “It’s hard to imagine you don’t see this in litigation at some point. I can’t imagine people don’t look at this and say there are legal deficiencies.”

As of Feb. 8, 29 states have adopted congressional district maps, and one state has approved congressional district boundaries that have not yet taken effect. Federal or state courts have blocked previously adopted maps in two states. Twelve states have not yet adopted congressional redistricting plans after the 2020 census. Six states were apportioned one U.S. House district, so no congressional redistricting is required. As of Feb. 8, 2012, 36 states had enacted congressional redistricting plans.

States have completed congressional redistricting for 301 of the 435 seats (69.2%) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Tennessee Gov. Lee nominates supreme court justice

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) selected Sarah K. Campbell as his nominee to fill the vacant seat on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Lee’s announcement came on Jan. 12 after consideration of the three finalists put forward by the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments: Campbell and Tennessee Court of Appeals Judges Kristi Davis and William Neal McBrayer. Campbell will succeed Justice Cornelia Clark, who passed away from cancer on Sep. 24. Campbell is Lee’s first nominee to the five-member supreme court.

Under Tennessee law, state supreme court justices are selected by the governor with help from a nominating commission. The nominee must then be confirmed by the Tennessee State Legislature. While Tennessee state law changed in 2014 to eliminate the judicial nominating commission and require legislative approval of the governor’s appointee, Gov. Bill Haslam’s Executive Order No. 54 and Lee’s subsequent Executive Order No. 87 re-established the judicial nominating commission for appointments. Accordingly, Tennessee’s process is effectively assisted appointment with legislative confirmation.

Before her nomination to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Campbell worked as the state of Tennessee’s associate solicitor general and special assistant to the attorney general. Her career experience includes working at the Washington, D.C. law firm Williams & Connolly LLP and clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and 11th Circuit Judge William Pryor.

Campbell earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee and master’s and J.D. degrees from Duke University.

In 2021, there were 19 supreme court vacancies in 17 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 16 of those 29 vacancies have been filled. So far in 2022, there have been four announced supreme court vacancies.

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11 apply for vacant Tennessee Supreme Court seat

The Tennessee courts administration announced on Nov. 19 that 11 individuals applied to fill the vacant seat on the Tennessee Supreme Court. The seat became vacant on Sept. 24 when former Justice Cornelia Clark passed away from cancer.

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments will hold a public hearing on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 to consider the applicants. The council is expected to vote on the applicants at the close of the hearing and forward three names to Gov. Bill Lee (R) for consideration. Lee’s nominee must receive approval from both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly before taking office.

The 11 applicants are:

  • William Blaylock, chief hearing officer, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Unemployment Appeals Tribunal
  • Sarah Campbell, associate solicitor general and special assistant to the attorney general, Tennessee Office of the Attorney General
  • Kristi Davis, judge, Tennessee Court of Appeals
  • Timothy L. Easter, judge, Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
  • Kelvin Jones, judge, Tennessee Twentieth Circuit Court
  • William Neal McBrayer, judge, Tennessee Court of Appeals
  • J. Douglas Overbey, of counsel, Owings, Wilson & Coleman
  • Robert F. Parsley, member, Miller & Martin PLLC
  • Jonathan T. Skrmetti, chief deputy attorney general, Tennessee Office of the Attorney General
  • Gingeree Smith, attorney
  • Jeffrey Usman, law professor, Belmont University College of Law

In 2021, there have been 18 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Seventeen of the vacancies have been caused by retirements, and one vacancy was caused by a justice’s death. To date, 14 of those vacancies have been filled.

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Tennessee Supreme Court justice’s death leaves vacancy

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark passed away from cancer on Sept. 24. Her death created one vacancy on the five-member supreme court. Clark’s replacement will be Gov. Bill Lee’s (R) first nominee to the court.

Under Tennessee law, midterm vacancies on the supreme court are filled via gubernatorial appointment with legislative approval. The appointed justice must stand for retention in the next general election to remain on the bench. Upon winning the retention election, the justice serves a full eight-year term.

Clark was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2005 by Gov. Phil Bredesen (D). She was subsequently elected to full eight-year terms in 2006 and 2014. In 2010, she became the second woman in Tennessee history to serve as chief justice of the court. She served in that role until 2012.

Before her appointment to the supreme court, Clark’s career experience included working as the director of the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, as a circuit court judge in the 21st Judicial District, and as an attorney in private practice with Farris, Warfield & Kanaday (now Stites & Harbison).

Clark earned a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University in 1971, a master’s degree from Harvard University in 1972, and a J.D. from Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1979.

Following Clark’s death, the Tennessee Supreme Court includes the following members:

  • Jeff Bivins, appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam (R) in 2014
  • Holly Kirby, appointed by Haslam in 2013
  • Sharon Lee, appointed by Bredesen in 2008
  • Roger A. Page, appointed by Haslam in 2016

In 2021, there have been 17 supreme court vacancies in 15 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Sixteen of the vacancies have been caused by retirements, and one vacancy was caused by a justice’s death.

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Republican Greg Vital wins special election in Tennessee House district

A special election was held on Sept. 14 for District 29 of the Tennessee House of Representatives. Greg Vital (R) defeated DeAngelo Jelks (D) in the general election. Vital and Jelks earned 80% and 19.8% of the vote, respectively. Once sworn in, Vital will serve until November 2022.

The seat became vacant after the death of Mike Carter (R) on May 15. Carter had represented the district since 2012.

Republicans have a 73-26 majority in the Tennessee House. Tennessee has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of September, 64 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 21 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Tennessee held 11 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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