Governor appeals judicial opinion blocking Senate redistricting plan

By: - April 7, 2022 6:41 pm
Despite complaints from the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Gov. Bill Lee says he will sign a financial transparency bill into law. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Despite complaints from the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Gov. Bill Lee says he will sign a financial transparency bill into law. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Gov. Bill Lee is making an “extraordinary” appeal of a three-judge panel’s opinion blocking a Senate redistricting plan from taking effect.

The governor, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins filed the appeal in the State Court of Appeals Thursday after the judicial panel placed an injunction on the Senate plan and extended the qualifying deadline for Senate candidates until May 5 from April 7.

“In doing so, the trial court’s order failed to consider or even discuss the significant harm that its injunction imposes upon Tennessee county election commissions’ federal obligations to provide ballots to military and overseas voters, and further ignore the risks of voter disenfranchisement and injury to the integrity of the electoral process,” the filing states.

The three-judge panel, which was created by the Legislature’s action in 2021, to hear redistricting challenges and other constitutional questions, ordered the Senate to come up with a new plan in 15 days or it would enact its own resolution.

The state argued the plaintiffs lack standing to sue, but the judicial panel’s ruling said, “There is no dispute about this constitutional language or what the framers of the Constitution of Tennessee meant by this language.”

The judicial panel did not enjoin the House redistricting plan, though a trial could still be held, according to the ruling, but determined the Senate plan violated the constitution because district numbers in Davidson did not run sequentially. The Republican-drawn plan moved one Republican senator’s district into the Antioch area and removed another Republican senator’s district from the Old Hickory area, leaving Davidson with 17th, 19th, 20th, and 21st District seats.

According to the Constitution, counties with more than one Senate seat are required to be numbered consecutively so even numbers run during one election cycle and odd numbers run in the next cycle.

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The Thursday filing by the Attorney General’s Office points out plaintiffs who sued the state to block House and Senate redistricting plans didn’t seek a temporary injunction until March 11, more than two weeks after their initial lawsuit. The case wasn’t heard until late March.

The state argued that none of the plaintiffs in the case could show they resided in the Davidson County districts that weren’t numbered consecutively and failed to show they were harmed.

Nevertheless, the judicial panel’s ruling said, “There is no dispute about this constitutional language or what the framers of the Constitution of Tennessee meant by this language.”

Three plaintiffs, backed by the Tennessee Democratic Party, sued the state in February to block the House and Senate redistricting plans, claiming they were unconstitutional. No challenge has been filed against the Legislature’s congressional redistricting plan, which splits Davidson into three seats.

Asked Thursday if Senate Republicans, who hold a supermajority in the chamber, could present a new map within that deadline, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said it could be done. But he noted a new map might not be as good as the one they submitted and added “we went out of our way in Nashville to provide a majority minority district.” He pointed out the plan Democrats proposed didn’t create a majority minority district in Davidson.

McNally said the Senate was aware of the requirement for Senate districts in counties with multiple seats to be consecutively numbered. But he said Attorney General Herb Slatery advised it would withstand a constitutional challenge because previous Democratic-led legislatures had done it.

The Attorney General’s Office said Thursday it couldn’t discuss advice provided to the Senate.

“We believe the plan is constitutionally defensible and our position is detailed in court filings. The recent opinion is just an initial procedural step and not a final ruling,” Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Samantha Fisher said Thursday.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro said Thursday a “longer, more collaborative process” could have helped the Senate avoid this type of legal minefield. Yarbro pointed out the sequential numbering was brought up in several meetings yet the Republican-controlled Senate forged ahead with the plan that wound up being blocked. 

 

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

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