Amended: All four amendments to Tennessee’s Constitution pass overwhelmingly

Slavery now prohibited; right to work law enshrined

By: - November 10, 2022 6:00 am
Gov. Bill Lee and Secretary of State Tre Hargett lead a parade to walk the Tennessee Constitutions to the Tennessee Library and Archives in early 2021. (Photo: Ray Di Pietro)

Gov. Bill Lee and Secretary of State Tre Hargett lead a parade to walk the Tennessee Constitutions to the Tennessee Library and Archives in early 2021. (Photo: Ray Di Pietro)

By a 4-1 margin, Tennessee voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure that will remove the last vestiges of legal slavery from the state’s Constitution.

Amendment 3 replaces archaic language that has lingered since just after the Civil War saying “slavery and involuntary servitude” are fit punishments for crime. With 79.5% of the vote, the passage will now be replaced with unequivocal language that says: “slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited in this State.”

The ballot measure was one of four Constitutional amendments before voters this election. All four were approved, but none with a higher margin than the anti-slavery measure.

In a news release Tuesday, Amendment 3 proponents called its passage “a ringing endorsement of freedom in our state. We have proven this was not right or left, it was wrong.”

Voters also embraced Amendment 1, which enshrines “right-to-work” in the state constitution.

Amendment 1 garnered 70% of the vote and swept all 95 counties, despite strong opposition from unions. Proponents have said the measure will guarantee that workers can’t be compelled to join unions or pay union dues. Opponents pointed out that Tennessee since 1947 has had a right to law measure on its books.

Right to work proponents included included Gov. Bill Lee and former Gov. Bill Haslam, who served on the campaign’s executive committee. The campaign celebrated its passage on Tuesday.

“We knew there was strong support for worker freedom in our state, but winning 70% of the vote sends the unmistakable message that Tennesseans believe in right-to-work and will fight to prevent Washington from taking it away from us,” said Justin Owen, an executive committee member for the Yes on 1 campaign.

Billy Dycus, president of Tennessee AFL-CIO expressed disappointment.

“Although Tuesday night’s results were not the outcome that we wanted, we are filled with more determination than ever to keep fighting,” he said. Workers know their worth — this is just the beginning of a long battle.”

Tennessee voters also approved two other amendments: Amendment 2, which garnered 74.6% of the vote, outlines a line of succession should the governor be temporarily unable to perform the duties of office. The amendment gives the lieutenant governor the authority to step into the role. Previously, the lieutenant governor would have had to resign from his or her seat before temporarily taking charge.

And voters also approved Amendment 4, repealing a long-disregarded ban on members of the clergy serving in the Tennessee General Assembly. The amendment passed with 63.2% of the vote, but it also garnered the most “no” votes of any of the four constitutional amendments.

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.

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