NASHVILLE — Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper says a proposed law barring Vanderbilt University “all comers” policy for on-campus groups is “constitutionally suspect.”
The legislation, which passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam, has legal problems “because its provisions impose a possible unconstitutional condition on the receipt of state funds and raise equal protection concerns,” Cooper wrote in the legal opinion.
The opinion was sought by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, who sponsored last year’s bill and aimed at the private university.
Vanderbilt’s policy requires that on-campus groups allow any interested students to join and run for office. It drew protests from religious organizations last year and prompted a move by outraged religious conservatives to block such policies through legislative action.
The bill also applied to state-run colleges and universities, which have not moved toward any “all comers” policy. Cooper said banning the policies at public higher education is constitutionally permissible under prior federal court rulings.
Vanderbilt was added, sponsors said, because the university’s hospital receives state funding.
In vetoing the bill, Haslam, a Republican, said last spring that while he strongly disagreed with Vanderbilt’s policy and had encouraged university trustees to change it, he had concerns about government stepping in and telling a private institution what to do.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...