Guide to the Tennessee Constitutional Amendments

Tennessee_Constitution_of_1835Former Montgomery County YR Chair Adam Groves recently put together a brief and unbiased overview of the four constitutional amendments that will be on your November 4 ballot.  With his permission, we have re-posted it here to help you make an informed decision.

NOTE: The TYRF has adopted a resolution in support of a “Yes” vote on Amendment 1

10314612_10152421629101885_4494308324631408061_nFrom Adam Groves:

Friends, it is hard to find a comprehensive guide to the four constitutional amendments you will face on the ballot if you live in Tennessee, so I decided to write my own. You can share with your friends if you like. This review covers the basic history of the amendment, offers background and is written in journalistic style to present just the facts and not my opinions.


In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood vs. Sundquist that the TN State Constitution contains broader rights to access abortion than those found in the US Constitution. The Court established a “strict scrutiny” requirement for legislation passed by the state legislature regulating abortion and struck down several restrictions previously passed by the legislature, including counseling requirements and a 48-hour waiting period. The judicial scrutiny standard does not prohibit all regulation of abortion, but determining whether a law will meet strict scrutiny is often unclear during the lawmaking process. Indeed, it often requires judicial testing (i.e., a series of lawsuits and appeals) for a conclusive answer. According to some, this has prevented some common restrictions on abortion that would have otherwise passed the legislature. For instance, Tennessee is the only state in the Southeast without a waiting period or informed consent laws.

  • A Yes on Amendment 1 would insert language into the state constitution eliminating the strict scrutiny requirement and allowing the legislature greater leeway to regulate abortion.
  • A No on Amendment 1 would keep the current judicial standards in place. Misconception: if the amendment passes, it will NOT make abortion illegal in Tennessee, nor will it eliminate exceptions to regulations such as life of the mother, rape or incest. Instead, determination of such exceptions will be achieved at the statutory level.


The Tennessee State Constitution requires that judges in the state be elected by the people of the state to eight year terms. However, since 1971, the state has utilized a modified procedure to appoint judges known as the Tennessee Plan. Under the process, a nominating commission determines a list of three candidates and the Governor selects one to fill a vacancy on the bench. Every eight years, the voters choose either to retain or replace the appointed judge through a yes/no retention election. Although the modified procedure has been in place for a while now, its legality continues to be ambiguous and it faces frequent legal challenges. Although the State Supreme Court has ruled that the process meets the constitutional requirements, critics point out that the judges deciding the constitutionality of the plan have a vested interest and the process seems to contradict the clear language that judges “shall be elected by qualified voters of the state.”

  • A Yes on Amendment 2 would eliminate the election clause in the state Constitution and adopt a modified Tennessee Plan for the selection of judges. The Judicial Selection Commission would be abolished, the Governor would nominate his choice for a judicial vacancy, but the appointment would be subject to the State Legislature’s approval. All judges would continue to face retention elections every eight years.
  • A No on Amendment 2 would retain the current elections language. Misconception: if the Amendment fails, the Tennessee Plan will continue to be used and the state will NOT immediately go back to open elections for judges (although this will remain an open possibility).


In 2001, then Governor Don Sundquist proposed that Tennessee adopt a progressive state income tax to balance the budget. The proposal resulted in significant and prolonged protests led by citizens groups at the State Capitol. The income tax proposals of 2001 – 2002 were eventually definitely defeated and several incumbent legislators involved in bringing forward the proposal for an income tax were subsequently beaten at the ballot box. Tennessee continues to be one of nine states without an across-the-board income tax, although it does have a limited income tax on dividends called the Hall Income Tax. Amendment 3 would constitutionally prohibit both a state income tax and any local government income taxes while leaving in place the Hall Income Tax. Proponents of Amendment 3 note the income tax’s lack of popularity among Tennessee voters, while opponents of amendment 3 argue it would hamstring future legislators from considering all funding options to meet the constitutional requirement of a balanced state budget.

  • A Yes on Amendment 3 would enact a constitutional prohibition on state and local income taxes.
  • A No on Amendment 3 would leave open the possibility of the legislature enacting income taxes in the future through the normal legislative process.


The Tennessee Constitution very generally prohibits lotteries and other games of chance. However, in 2002, voters approved a constitutional amendment to authorize a state-sponsored lottery which funds secondary education scholarships to residents of the state. Within this amendment, the Legislature was also constitutionally allowed to authorize other lotteries benefiting 501(c)3 charitable organizations with a 2/3 vote. In 2005 a new section was added to the US Tax code providing certain tax benefits to qualifying veterans organizations. The organizations benefitting from this section of the tax code are known as 501(c)19 organizations. Amendment 4 would allow 501(c)19 organizations to conduct lotteries with the approval of 2/3 of the Legislature.

  • A Yes on Amendment 4 would extend the possibility for veterans groups to conduct lotteries benefiting their organizations with Legislative approval.
  • A No on Amendment 4 would keep those authorized to conduct lotteries with Legislative approval to 501(c)3 organizations only.


Prior to 2014, the Tennessee Legislature had restricted wine sales to licensed liquor stores. Legislative authorization for grocery stores to begin selling wine is subject to local approval in individual jurisdictions across the state. If you live within the city limits of the City of Clarksville, you will be eligible to vote on the wine in grocery stores referendum.

  • A Yes Vote on this referendum will allow wine to be sold in some grocery stores beginning in July 2016 (a sunset period is in effect and certain stores will not be able to sell wine if they are located within 500 feet of an existing liquor store).
  • A No on this referendum will continue to limit wine sales to liquor stores.