Brexit, Abortion, and the Future of Party Politics

With the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, a political pundit recently predicted that the two major political parties would eventually realign to reflect new policy priorities among voters. As I read the prediction and as I thought about the Brexit vote and the Supreme Court’s abortion decision this week, I couldn’t help but think of another aspect of that alignment that social conservatives may need to consider.

The pundit pointed out that social issues have tended to draw people to one party or the other, even though those people may not have shared that party’s other platform policies. The pundit predicted that, with the “social wars” over, we would now see a “policy realignment” within the parties based on “a clash between nationalists, mostly on the right, and multicultural globalists, mostly on the left.”1

While I don’t think the “social wars” will ever be over, I realized I had touched on this idea several weeks ago in one of my commentaries:

I think some social conservatives have despaired of “values candidates” actually doing anything in support of their values. They have not lost their concern for the social values that drove them in the past to reluctantly support the Doles, McCains, and Romneys, and the do-nothing-but-make-excuses-for-inaction social conservatives who have been elected to Congress, but they have decided that supporting such conservatives isn’t going to result in those values being reflected in public policy. So, at this point, I think some social conservatives … are voting for someone who talks tough on the other issues they care about.

But this shift also seems a bit like the vote that just took place in Britain. I couldn’t help but notice several statements of this type:

But the really important thing is that future Prime Ministers will really have the power to run the country. No longer will they have the excuse that this or that isn’t possible due to some EU directive. Then we will have the chance to throw them out. That is the precious democratic inheritance that our parents and grandparents had which we have recovered and can pass on to our children and grandchildren.2

And I couldn’t help but think how something similar could be said of the United States if the size of the federal government shrunk and the people demanded that the imperialist U.S. Supreme Court be reigned in. Politicians would no longer “have the excuse that this or that isn’t possible due to” some Supreme Court decision or some federal law or regulation. The precious “democratic inheritance” we were given and have squandered could be “recovered” and “pass[ed] on to our children and grandchildren.”

That brings me to the Supreme Court’s abortion decision this week. Pro-life advocates have decried the decision and vowed to continue to fight to overturn Roe v. Wade. As much as I support that idea, it’s fighting the symptom, not the disease. The disease is the judicial philosophy of the Court (and courts at every level) coupled with its lack of accountability. With this judicial philosophy and a completely unaccountable judiciary, we need to realize our “democratic inheritance” is gone.

So how does all this hang together? If the pundit is right about the parties being realigned based on globalist vs. nationalist kinds of ideologies, then a secondary but parallel issue may well be alignment based on whether one party supports a strong national government or a more limited federal government in which states take on an increasing policy function as envisioned by our Founders under the Constitution prior to its reshaping by the Supreme Court.3

The first question in my mind is which party will embrace which of these two competing internal governing structures for the U.S. And the second question is whether social conservatives will, at least for the time being, be content to accept domestic policies crafted at the state level, even if it means some states do some things they won’t like.

The bottom line is that things are changing. Social conservatives would do well to figure out what that change is and where they fit within it.


  1. Michael Lind, “This Is What the Future of American Politics Looks Like,” Politico, May 22, 2016
  3. People forget that the Bill of Rights that the Supreme Court has applied to nationalize the federal government and strike down state policies the Court majority doesn’t like originally only applied to the states. It was not until long after the adoption of the 14th Amendment that the Court began to use the Bill of Rights against the states.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Tennessee Asserts Sovereignty on Amendment 1

As you probably know, the chair of Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee and some of its supporters filed a federal lawsuit this past summer to enjoin passage of Amendment 1, which voters adopted in November of last year. Planned Parenthood’s supporters argued the state Election Commission did not count the votes the way the state Constitution requires. However, in recent months the state took the fight to them and won a great victory in Court last week.

In September, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Mark Goins, Coordinator of State Elections, filed suit in the Chancery Court of Williamson County asking the state courts to declare whether the state had counted the votes correctly under the state Constitution.

I have written on this subject before, stating that the question of how the state Constitution is to be interpreted is a matter for the state courts to decide, not a federal court. But arrogant federal District Court Judge Kevin Sharp decided he would decide for Tennessee how its Constitution should be interpreted

Thankfully, the state essentially said, “Enough of that, Judge Sharp. We gave you a chance to do the right thing by declining to interpret our state Constitution, and you choose wrong. Now we’ll see the Planned Parenthood folks over in state court.”

This suit was a great exercise in giving recognition to the dual sovereignty that exists under our federal government.

States are still sovereign governments under the U.S. Constitution, and their courts have every bit as much constitutional authority to interpret the state and federal constitution, as do the federal courts. Of course, when the state Supreme Court disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court, you have a problem, but not until then.

Tennessee’s Not Alone in Asserting Its Sovereignty

This legal point regarding state sovereignty was ably and rightly demonstrated last March when a single federal district judge ruled that all of Alabama’s probate judges had to start issuing same-sex “marriage” licenses. The Alabama Supreme Court stepped in and ordered all the probate judges who were not actually parties to that particular federal court lawsuit to continue following Alabama’s marriage law.

Liberals decried the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision, but that’s all they could do, cry. The Court was correct, and eventually the same-sex “marriage” advocates realized all they could do was wait to see what the U.S. Supreme Court would say in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.

Just Say No to Federal Government Overreach

So back to the Amendment 1 lawsuit in state court. The abortion advocates moved the state court to dismiss the state’s lawsuit and, essentially asking the state court to defer to the federal court, to let the federal court handle the decision. To the credit of Judge Binkley, he said, “No thank you. The state is equipped to handle these kinds of cases, so we’ll just all proceed full speed ahead.”

That decision was as it should be. We can thank our Secretary of State, Election Coordinator, and Attorney General for asserting our state’s rights on this issue of state law. It was a creative way to tell the pro-abortion crowd that Tennessee is not going to let them use the federal government to dictate to us if we can find another way.

Now let’s hope our Attorney General will put on that same creative thinking cap to find a way to say to the federal government we’re not going to let you shove us around when it comes to refugee resettlement and to marriage, two issues that are looming as the legislature prepares to return for session in January.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Is Planned Unwed Parenthood a Good Idea?

This week Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus to a “single mom.” Of course, in that culture, that was a scandal, but now in America we are seeing a rise in the number of unmarried women having babies, and it is not all the result of unplanned, crisis pregnancies. The implications of it need to be thought about in our state.

The fact of the matter is that increasingly the pregnancies we need to think about are those where there is no intention to provide a child with a relationship to one of his or her biological parents. Single women go to sperm banks to “get” a father for their baby, or perhaps I should say a “genetic contributor” to their baby. This may satisfy the urges or “needs” of the adult, but what about the child? Does the child have any rights?

So while I take a “break” for Christmas, let me share the excellent thoughts of my friend, John Stonestreet, with the Colson Center and author of a recent “Breakpoint” commentary on this subject:

Writing in The Atlantic recently, David Frum acknowledges that the abortion rate has come down, and that most Americans now consider themselves to be pro-life. But the magazine’s senior editor manages to find a dark lining in this silver cloud. “Abortion rates are coming down,” he writes, “mostly because the number of unmarried women having babies is going up.”

“This is the fascinating irony of the pro-life movement,” he continues. “The cause originated as a profoundly socially conservative movement. Yet as it grew, it became less sectarian. Women came to the fore as leaders. It found a new language of concern and compassion, rather than condemnation and control. Most radically and decisively, the movement made its peace with unwed parenthood as the inescapable real-world alternative to abortion.”

Well, we have indeed figured out how to frame the issue as one of compassion for mothers and their children. And though allowing a child to live is always more compassionate than abortion, I haven’t made peace with unwed parenthood—at least not in the sense that Frum uses the term—and neither have any of the pro-life leaders that I know.

That’s because we believe that children not only have a right to life; they also have the right to a mom and a dad. Even more, we’d argue they have a right to a married mom and dad. All the social science agrees. As my friend Ryan Anderson and his colleague at the Heritage Foundation, Sarah Torre, recently wrote in The National Review Online, “The best place on average for a child to grow up is with his married biological mom and dad. …[This brings] greater academic success, lower rates of substance abuse, and a significantly decreased risk of childhood poverty.” Yes, kids have a right to a married mother and father.

Now before I go on, let me be clear: Of course we pro-lifers encourage unwed mothers to have their children instead of abort them. This is no great revelation, is it? The right to life is paramount. And churches should do everything to support single mothers, and provide options such as adoption whenever appropriate. As Anderson and Torre write, “It’s far better to allow a child to live, even in less than ideal circumstances, than to kill her simply because she’s inconvenient or might experience hardship.”

And then they clarify why single parenthood is increasing, and it’s not because pro-lifers have “made their peace” with single parenthood. Instead, a whole host of interlocking factors has led to this trend: “A sexual revolution that decoupled sex from marriage, the sustained desire by low-income women to have children (outside even a committed relationship), the crisis of employed law-abiding blue-collar young men, and an ever-growing welfare state that rewards single parenthood and penalizes marriage have all contributed to the rise in unwed childbearing.”

But, they continue, if we can launch campaigns against teen pregnancy—and we have—then we ought to be able to address unwed parenthood, too. They quote welfare expert Robert Rector, who notes, “Young people in low-income communities are never told that having a child outside of marriage will have negative consequences. … or that marriage has beneficial effects.”

So let’s tell them, for heaven’s sake—and for theirs!

And what has driven down the abortion rate? Anderson and Torre point to the establishment of more than 2,000 pregnancy centers nationwide that provide counseling and medical services to women facing unplanned pregnancies, the availability of ultrasounds (which demonstrate the humanity of the unborn), and to legislation that protects women and their unborn children. They quote University of Michigan professor Michael New, who says a “substantial body of peer-reviewed research…finds that public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and properly designed informed consent laws all reduce the incidence of abortion.”

But there’s certainly no reason we have to choose between fighting abortion and promoting marriage. Come to, click on this commentary, and we’ll point you to pro-life and pro-family organizations.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Immigration, Abortion, and the Missing Virtue

President Obama takes executive action on immigration, and some Congressional leaders promise to do whatever it takes to stop him. Amendment 1 removes the judicial impediment to abortion regulations, and some pro-life state legislators may want to make up for “lost time” in regulating abortion. As I considered the two situations, a word seldom used anymore kept coming to mind.

That word is prudence. It is known as one of the four cardinal virtues. And it is virtue particularly needed at a time when the vast majority of Americans distrust their government and politicians. Without prudence, that distrust will only grow, and without trust, our government cannot function well.

Prudence Defined

Prudence was defined by Noah Webster in his famous 1828 dictionary as follows:

“Prudence implies caution in deliberating and consulting on the most suitable means to accomplish valuable purposes, and the exercise of sagacity in discerning and selecting them. Prudence differs from wisdom in this, that prudence . . . is exercised more in foreseeing and avoiding evil, than in devising and executing that which is good . . . .”

Or, as Webster summed it up in the last sentence of his definition: “Prudence is principally in reference to actions to be done, and due means, order, season and method of doing or not doing.”


In the case of immigration, prudence is certainly needed. Our immigration “situation” is a mess. There are legal, constitutional, philosophical, theological, and practical issues to be considered. The impact of any policy will be great and far reaching. If a pebble thrown in a lake causes ripples vastly disproportionate to its circumference, then action on immigration is by comparison a boulder thrown into a pond.

That the President thinks he knows what is right and is willing to do it even if it is contrary to his previously expressed understanding of his limited constitutional authority is clear evidence that he lacks prudence.

That some Republicans, in an exercise of bravado and playing to their base, start saying they will do whatever it takes to stop him could lead to counterproductive actions and more government distrust if prudence is not exercised.

In saying that, I don’t mean that nothing should be done on immigration or that unconstitutional exercises of authority should go unchecked. But prudence dictates that there be serious deliberation and consultation in order to determine the “due means, order, season and method” of approaching an unavoidable issue and reigning in the president.


And in Nashville prudence should dictate how pro-life legislators proceed after the passage of Amendment 1.

Public polls and campaign internal polls showed that well over 60% of Tennesseans believed a woman should be fully informed prior to an abortion, have time to consider that information absent life-threatening exigent circumstances, and know that the clinic she went to was licensed and inspected by the state health department. So, the prudent legislator would ask, “If that’s true, then why did the amendment only pass with only 53% of the vote?”

Having been intimately involved in the campaign, I can give you my opinion. The ten percentage point difference was a reflection of people’s distrust of their government and politicians and their application of that distrust to specter raised by opponents that the legislature would go “too far” in regulating abortion, beyond what they were ready to accept.

In that atmosphere of distrust and fear of government interference, prudence might consider how the cause of life can best be advanced over the long haul, not just in the short run. Whether prudence or being seen by others as the most pro-life legislator will win the day remains to be seen.


Prudence is in short supply in politics these days. And perhaps it’s because politicians cast prudence aside to placate the frustration of voters with gridlock. But as an old legislative colleague of mine used to say, “Sometimes you can get there faster by going slower.” Advice some of our current politicians would do well to heed.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Duplicity and Disdain for the Constitution

The plaintiffs who recently filed a lawsuit to enjoin passage of Amendment 1 have unwittingly shown their duplicity and their disdain for both the people of our state and our constitution.

Amendment 1 was necessitated by a ruling of the state Supreme Court in 2000 that “found” a right to abortion in our state constitution. Amendment 1 essentially reversed the state Supreme Court’s ruling. Now the plaintiffs argue that the votes on the amendment were not properly counted because election officials counted all the votes “the people” cast on the amendment, not just the votes of “the people” who voted for a gubernatorial candidate.

I put the words “the people” in quotes because they are central to the provision of the constitution on which the plaintiffs rely to disqualify the votes of people who didn’t vote in the gubernatorial election, which is potentially thousands of voters. The provision reads as follows:

“And if the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of this Constitution.”

To properly interpret that provision, the whole of the constitution should be examined, and there is one other place in the constitution that speaks to amendments to the constitution. It’s Article I, Section 1, which provides, in pertinent part:

“All power is inherent in the people; . . . they have at all times, unalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.” (emphasis added)

Since our government is framed by our constitution and amendments are the means by which we “alter” or “reform” it, then the power to amend the constitution clearly belongs to “the people.” And the provision relied on by the plaintiffs does nothing to change that inasmuch as it begins with, “the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments.”

In other words, the whole of the constitution, giving meaning to all the words in the constitution, means that “at all times” the power over the constitution belongs to all “the people” and not just to the people who choose to vote in a gubernatorial election, as the plaintiffs argue.

Given the clear statement that amendments are to be approved by “the people,” what are we to make of the language about votes in the governor’s election? We are to make of it exactly what the state has said for years—it establishes a minimum number of votes that an amendment must receive to be adopted.

The Framers clearly did not want a minority number of “the people” to change the constitution that governs all the people. Yet that is exactly the result if the plaintiffs’ interpretation is correct; it can lead to an absurd result.

Assume 1,000,000 vote for an unopposed gubernatorial candidate (which some might say is pretty close to the choice we just had), and 600,000 of them vote for an amendment while the other 400,000 vote against it. Then assume another 1,000,000 Tennesseans, inflamed against the amendment, vote against it. The total votes on the amendment are 600,000 in favor and 1,400,000 against it.

According to the plaintiffs’ theory, the amendment is approved! That’s because the other 1,000,000 votes against it don’t count: those “people” don’t count because they didn’t vote for a gubernatorial candidate.

The bottom line is this. When it is something they want, like a constitutional right to abortion, the plaintiffs praise judges who find words in the constitution like “privacy” and “abortion” that simply are not there.

Then, when the people, by popular vote, repudiate the imaginations of judges that find words in the constitution that aren’t there, the plaintiffs sue based on a myopic reading of only certain words that are there to the exclusion of other words.

So, the plaintiffs want to make up and “insert” into the constitution words they like and ignore the ones they don’t like. In doing so, rather than showing their respect for the “people” and the constitution, the plaintiffs have shown their duplicity and their disdain for both.

This blogpost first published in The Tennessean, Opinion section, November 13, 2014.

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David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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