State Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) proposed a constitutional amendment to limit governmental power during emergencies. Tennessee Stands, a nonprofit social advocacy organization, instigated the proposal of this amendment.
“No declaration of emergency by the federal government, the governor of this state, or any agent or political subdivision of this state shall be construed to lessen or abridge the rights and privileges of the citizens of this state guaranteed by this Constitution or lessen or diminish the controlling authority of this Constitution,” read the amendment. “In all circumstances, the departments of the government shall be bound to and shall not exceed or delegate, their respective duties and powers as defined in this Constitution.”
SJR 0144, Constitutional Amendment
We're thankful for Senator Mark Pody filing our constitutional amendment to secure individual liberties during an emergency. This amendment would add a new section to Article XI of the Tennessee Constitution stating: pic.twitter.com/eKjz4UiFWy
— Tennessee Stands (@tennesseestands) February 15, 2021
Gary Humble, Tennessee Stands Executive Director, told The Tennessee Star that the amendment relays a simple and short message to elected officials and bureaucrats: government must abide by the limited, enumerated powers granted to it in the state’s constitution.
“Our argument is that [the executive orders] are unconstitutional now. The truth of the matter is, the constitution is always enforced. There are no circumstances by which the constitution isn’t the supreme authority. In the case of an emergency, that’s not clearly understood,” explained Humble. “The confusion comes in [when] people often reference the Tenth Amendment. People will say that those are the state’s policing powers per the Tenth Amendment, that some of our constitutional rights do go on hold in order to provide for the common good and public safety. What people fail to recognize, though is that the Tenth Amendment [refers to] the U.S. Constitution.”
Humble emphasized that the Tenth Amendment defers powers to the states and their constitutions. He noted that the Tennessee Constitution doesn’t have an amendment to empower state agencies and officials to run their citizens in an emergency.
“The word ’emergency’ is currently not in the state constitution and its high time it is,” stated Humble. “In an emergency, the constitution is still the controlling authority and the government must still operate only by how the constitution defines it can operate.”
Humble shared that he’d reached out to Pody because he trusted him to fight for his constituents’ constitutional rights.
“I know that Senator Pody is a man that stands on principle, is unwavering, and stands on our original principles of the constitution,” said Humble.
Tennessee Stands has also rallied behind bills currently being considered in the General Assembly. The legislation they’ve supported carries a common theme: preventing state and local governments from exercising similar or expanded powers witnessed this past year during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is making it clear to all state agencies and to the General Assembly that you cannot bypass the constitution of the people in this state, ever, under any circumstances,” stated Humble. “That’s the message.”
The amendment was introduced and passed on first consideration last week.
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