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State Sovereignty Showdown?
Photo by Anthony Garand / Unsplash

State Sovereignty Showdown?

The clash between two Tennessee bills may become the genesis of a collaborative effort to fend off federal overreach.

This week, the Senate State and Local Government Committee weighed in on a state sovereignty bill following a request for an AG opinion regarding its constitutionality.

Two separate bills addressing this issue popped up on this year’s docket. Though there are a few key differences, both pieces of legislation would establish a process in which the state may address unconstitutional federal overreach.

Last Wednesday, the AG’s office released its opinion, which stated that Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) and Rep. Bud Hulsey’s (R-Kingsport) bill—reviewed in its original submission as Senate Bill 1092— was constitutionally infirm. Though the findings seemingly put the two state sovereignty bills at odds with one another, Tuesday’s committee discussion revealed that all the sponsors involved are united in their goal to tackle the issue.

Towards the beginning of the meeting, Bowling invited Jeff Cobble, a lawyer and constitutional expert, to present to the committee. Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) asked Cobble about the attorney general’s findings.

“I’ll be the first to admit my view of the constitution, my view of federal power and state’s power, did not come from law school,” Cobble said. “We didn’t study this in law school. We just studied what judges said about the constitution, and so I don’t fault attorneys for not understanding it.” Cobble concluded that, in spite of the opinion, Bowling’s bill is constitutional thanks to protections put forth by the 9th and 10th amendments.

Senator Adam Lowe (R-Calhoun), a sponsor of the other state sovereignty bill, championed the spirit of the coinciding initiatives: “If this bill were to pass, I would hope that we wouldn’t think that we were done with the process of establishing sovereignty in the state of Tennessee.”

In the end, the committee voted to send the bill to a summer study, which will be conducted in May or June. Bowling graciously accepted the motion. “I appreciate the discussion we heard, and I appreciate the fact that you’re willing to realize that maybe this is something that we do need to study,” she said. “Not only do we have the right and the power, we have the responsibility. We took the oath to uphold them. We can’t uphold what we don’t fully understand.”