A few weeks back, we used this space to look mildly askance at state Attorney General Herb Slatery for a bit of what we perceived as waffling on the matter of laws denying bathroom preference to transgenders. Slatery, we noted, had interceded unmistakably during the 2016 session of the General Assembly to prevent passage of such a law in Tennessee, and his criticism of that proposed legislation as a likely impediment to the state's eligibility for Title IX federal funding is probably what caused its eventual withdrawal.
So far, so good. But then we took the A.G. to task for his decision to join 10 other states in a lawsuit challenging a directive from President Obama advising states strongly (if a bit ambiguously) to allow transgenders to use the bathroom facilities of their declared gender. We saw no bigotry in Slatery's action, just a bit of legal hair-splitting that allowed him — and the state of Tennessee — some standing room on both sides of a controversial issue.
- Tennessee AG Herbert Slatery
In any case, turnabout is fair play, and we now deem it only fair to give Slatery his props for taking effective, ethical, and legally defensible positions on a couple of other public issues. Back in February, the selfsame Tennessee legislature formally directed Slatery to sue the federal government over the federal refugee program in an effort to prevent victims of the ongoing Syrian violence from being resettled in the state.
Slatery took that matter under advisement and recently responded with a courtly but firm statement of "No, thank you." Said the A.G. in a letter to the clerks of both the state Senate and state House of Representatives: "I have constitutional concerns about one branch of government telling another what to do." Slatery deferred to attorneys for the two legislative branches to sue away to their hearts' content if they chose to, but they would have to do so independently of his office, he said, advising the legislators that such an action would almost certainly be futile. A better course of action, he suggested, would be for state officials to request quarterly fact-finding meetings with representatives of the federal government and, further, to sit in on ongoing public sessions being conducted by Catholic Charities, which operates the Tennessee Office for Refugees.
A most judicious response, we thought. We support Slatery in that action, as well as in his adamant stand, more recently, that citizens of Tennessee are entitled to know the contents of a recent state investigation into alleged misconduct by state Representative Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin). Late in this year's legislative session, Durham was banished to an office outside the state Capitol and ordered to keep his distance from interns and other staffers in the wake of complaints of sexual harassment on his part. He is now suing Slatery and state House Speaker Beth Harwell in an effort to prevent publication of the state's findings in his case.
In response to Durham's claim that such publication would do him "irreparable harm," the attorney general countered on Monday of this week that, au contraire, the harm would be to the "public interest" if the results of the investigation should be suppressed.
Well done, we say. It is long past time for some redeeming sunlight on the predatory behavior of the Durhams in government.