- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


Sept. 23

Knoxville News Sentinel on legislature nullifying same-sex marriage ruling:

A pair of Tennessee Republican lawmakers are marching down the same path to legal defeat trod so many times before - nullification.

State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and state Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, believe the Tennessee Legislature has the authority to override the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down same-sex marriage bans nationwide. Last week the Wilson County lawmakers filed the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act,” which asserts that Obergefell v. Hodges “is unauthoritative, void and of no effect.”

The Legislature, of course, has no such power. The Supreme Court has the final say in how the nation’s laws and its Constitution are interpreted. Through the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court decisions have the force of federal law.

The argument for nullification rests on an outdated view of states’ rights. The 10th Amendment reserves rights not given to the federal government to the states. The 14th Amendment essentially places conditions on state actions, however, requiring that state laws afford all citizens due process and equal protection. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the justices determined bans on same-sex marriage do not meet that standard.

The Supreme Court’s authority as the ultimate arbiter of constitutional meaning has been tested many times in the past, never successfully. One of the most famous showdowns occurred in Little Rock, Arkansas, two years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling ending legally segregated schools.

The Arkansas Legislature responded by passing a state constitutional amendment and a law preventing the Little Rock school system from complying with a federal desegregation order. In Cooper v. Aaron, the Supreme Court minced no words about its powers: “The interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment enunciated by this Court in the Brown case is the supreme law of the land, and Art. VI of the Constitution makes it of binding effect on the States.”

The justices reserved some especially harsh words for state officials who attempt to defy Supreme Court decisions: “No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his solemn oath to support it.”

The Supreme Court can make wrongheaded decisions, and typically a later Supreme Court will overturn a previous court’s ruling. The Brown decision, for example, overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, which held that the Constitution allowed separate but equal facilities for blacks and whites. Passage of a constitutional amendment is another option. What is not possible, however, is for a state Legislature to determine which laws comply with the U.S. Constitution and which ones do not.

If nullification were possible, the city of Chicago could once again ban the personal possession of firearms, despite the Supreme Court ruling in McDonald v. Chicago. States could once again segregate their schools. It is not much of a stretch to say nullification would lead to anarchy.

Tennessee’s legislators opposed to same-sex marriage have other options and should not violate their oaths to uphold the U.S. Constitution in a doomed attempt to nullify the Supreme Court’s decision.




Sept. 22

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on the city’s poverty rates:

Memphis received some devastating news last week.

An estimated 29.8 percent of Memphians were living below the poverty line last year, up from 27.7 percent in 2013, according to the figures from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Put simply, the figures show 191,609 of the estimated population of 641,946 last year lived on less than the federal poverty level of $11,770 for individuals and $24,250 for a family of four.

That’s up from the 2013 estimates of 176,695 people in poverty out of a population of 638,159.

Nationally, the poverty rate for 2014 was estimated at 15.5 percent, which was not a statistically significant change from the 15.8 percent for the previous year.

Another way to look at the new numbers is that 47 percent of the city’s 163,000-plus children were living in poverty last year.

The city’s poverty rate did not evolve overnight. It has been festering and growing for decades. It may take a decade or more to bring those numbers down.

Candidates for Memphis mayor and many candidates seeking election or re-election to the Memphis City Council are certainly aware of what the poverty rate portends for the city.

The four major mayoral candidates - Harold Collins, Jim Strickland, incumbent Mayor A C Wharton and Mike Williams - all have targeted reducing poverty as a major issue.

Collins’ anti-poverty fight is listed in his “Believe in Memphis” plan. Strickland’s strategy is documented in his “Better Memphis” plan. Wharton has a “Blueprint for Prosperity.” Williams has a “Vision for a better Memphis.”

All the plans rightly state the city needs to attract better-paying jobs to slow the poverty growth and to begin to reverse the poverty numbers.

Some of the plans recognize that the problem is rooted in more than a lack of good-paying jobs.

Some of Wharton’s opponents are trying to hold the mayor accountable for the high poverty rate. This, however, is a problem that was in making long before he became city mayor.

It is a school system that for decades graduated or issued certificates of attendance to seniors who did not have the academic prowess to attend college or to get a good-paying job.

It is an economy that for too long prided itself on having a vibrant service and distribution industry, which provides employment but not the kind of wages that build a solid middle class or help people climb out of poverty.

And, it does not help to have the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development touting a low-cost labor force.

It is generation after generation of families who, for a host reasons, are stuck in conditions that exacerbate the societal maladies poverty spawns.

It is a social welfare system that helps people subsist, but not really climb out of poverty.

Over the years, this newspaper’s editorial board has listened to various business, philanthropic and elected officials present plans to reverse the poverty numbers. Some of those plans have had some success. Others, apparently, never gained any traction because we never heard any more about them.

It seems to us, though, that if the poverty rate is going to stabilize and reverse itself, the stakeholders in the fight must do a better job of educating and mentoring the children growing up in poor households so that they do not become the next generation living in poverty.




Sept. 19

Daily News Journal, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on proposed public parks in city:

The city of Murfreesboro has a long way to go before seven proposed parks are made available to the public on school grounds.

While preliminary designs have generated excitement for those anxious for neighborhood ball fields, the $12.7 million project, to be paid through the city’s capital-spending plan, is as yet unfunded. In addition, certain issues will have to be addressed as well.

Currently, Black Fox Elementary, Cason Lane Academy, Discovery School at Bellwood, Mitchell-Neilson Schools, Overall Creek Elementary, Siegel Elementary and Scales Elementary have been suggested as appropriate locations for public playgrounds, athletic fields and walking trails.

The proximity of the parks would benefit both the school system, which could use the new facilities for physical education programs, and residents who could make use of the space for recreational use and family physical-fitness activities.

However, as with any issue with our schools, safety must be a paramount concern, and schools system officials have already said they do not want the park to be publicly accessible during school hours.

If that moratorium on use continues through the after-school program hours, the sun would set during much of the school year before public use could be had of the areas without the addition of lighting.

Murfreesboro City Schools Director Linda Gilbert also has previously said she does not want guns in parks when students are present.

The legislation that allows for guns in parks does have language that stipulates that a gun may not be within the “immediate vicinity” of a school-sponsored event in a park, greenway or recreational area. Gilbert has said she wants portable signs to put out when students are on field trips at such locations.

We find the term “immediate vicinity” too vague when it comes to the safety of our children. Local officials, however, seem to be of the opinion that an overall ban on weapons on school property would override other laws concerning the presence of guns, even in areas designated as public parks as long as they are on school grounds.

Schools and parks officials would have to come to agreement on maintenance issues as well.

While the issues city officials face are numerous before public parks at schools can safely become a reality, we do think the idea has merits. We applaud the efforts to make public parks more accessible to the residents of Murfreesboro.

The school-based neighborhood parks would certainly make a wonderful addition to the city’s already fine park system with its greenways, playgrounds, ball fields, public pools and community centers. Increased access to physical fitness facilities gives a positive impression that Murfreesboro is concerned about the health and quality of life of its residents.

Who wouldn’t want to be part of such a community?

Let’s hope our leaders work together to find a way through the obstacle course of issues and put the city on a healthy track.



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