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Tennessee ratified the U.S. Constitution's Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, thereby providing the final vote necessary for its enactment. The Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote; yet a number of voter registration requirements remained in effect that acted to stop many African-Americans and disenfranchised whites in Tennessee from casting their ballots. Tennessee adopted its current constitution in 1870, which provides that martial law within the state is forbidden. This provision is thought to have been included because of Tennessee’s experience after the Civil War when it suffered harsh treatment under Union military control.
In 1925, a case often referred to as the “Monkey Trial” made history in Tennessee and across the nation. In Tennessee v. Scopes, the ACLU challenged Tennessee’s Butler Act, which forbade all state-funded educational institutions from teaching evolution theory. Scopes marked a large setback for the anti-evolution movement, and decreased the influence of Fundamentalism in public schools. Additionally, Scopes was a turning point in history as the majority of mainstream American society began to adopt scientific theory as preeminent authority. Although the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the Butler Act, it failed to set another trial after the first was dismissed on a technicality, and the Butler Act was not enforced thereafter; it was eventually repealed in 1967. Scopes also led a number of other states to stop enforcing anti-evolution laws in their schools. Finally, in 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court found that such laws are unconstitutional as violations of the First Amendment's provision for Separation of Church and State.
In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court examined the fundamentals of Tennessee’s law making body. In Baker v. Carr, the Court ruled that reapportionment issues are justiciable; in other words, federal courts have authority to decide cases in which the method of defining voting districts is being challenged. The Court also set forth the “one-person, one-vote” standard in legislative districting; under this standard, each person must be given equal weight in legislative apportionment. Carr modified the composition of Tennessee’s legislature to better reflect the state’s larger urban population, and prompted other states to re-apportion their districts as well.
In recent years, as Tennessee’s demographic has become more moderate, the state has played a larger role in producing legal change. Specifically, the state judiciary has broadened its citizens’ personal rights under the Tennessee Constitution to exceed those rights granted under the U.S. Constitution. For example, in 1995 the Tennessee Supreme Court found that under the State Constitution’s equal protection provision, the state legislature must provide substantially equal opportunities in the state’s public schools; and in 1996, the Tennessee Court of Appeals struck down several anti-sodomy statutes under the State Constitution's right to privacy.
Today, almost 15,200 lawyers practice in Tennessee. Lawyers in Tennessee specialize in a wide variety of areas, including government discrimination, family law, and employment law. LegalMatch can locate a Tennessee lawyer who is best qualified to handle the particular legal issues you’re facing, free of charge.
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Last Modified: 08-17-2010 02:37 PM PDT