Statutes and Municipal Codes, Construction of

Interpretation of Constitution

Except as indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion. 

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals

McNabb v. Harrison, No. E2022-01577-COA-R3-CV, p. 3-4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 25, 2023). 

This appeal involves an issue of constitutional interpretation, which is a question of law. See State v. Burns, 205 S.W.3d 412, 414 (Tenn. 2006). Therefore, “the standard of review is de novo without any presumption of correctness given to the legal conclusions of the courts below.” Id. (citing S. Constructors, Inc. v. Loudon County Bd. of Educ., 58 S.W.3d 706, 710 (Tenn. 2001)). Regarding constitutional interpretation, our Supreme Court has set forth the following principles:

Courts are to construe constitutional provisions as written without reading any ambiguities into them. As [the plaintiff] urges, the words and terms in the Constitution should be given their plain, ordinary and inherent meaning. When a provision clearly means one thing, courts should not give it another meaning. The intent of the people adopting the Constitution should be given effect as that meaning is found in the instrument itself, and courts must presume that the language in the Constitution has been used with sufficient precision to convey that intent. State ex rel. Sonnenburg v. Gaia, 717 S.W.2d 883, 885 (Tenn. 1986).

Constitutional provisions will be taken literally unless the language is ambiguous. When the words are free from ambiguity and doubt and express plainly and clearly the sense of the framers of the Constitution there is no need to resort to other means of interpretation. Shelby County v. Hale, 200 Tenn. 503, 292 S.W.2d 745, 748 (1956). But if there is doubt about the meaning, the Court should look first to the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention which adopted the provision in question as an aid to determining the intent of the framers. Id.

Hooker v. Haslam, 437 S.W.3d 409, 426 (Tenn. 2014).



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