Tennessee House Speaker Sexton challenges free speech ruling on signs
Seeking a fast hearing, the measure asserts a judge’s ruling muddies separation of powers
House Speaker Cameron Sexton was surrounded by chanting protesters as he left the Tennessee House Chambers on Aug. 24, 2023 during a special legislative session. (Photo: John Partipilo)
House Speaker Cameron Sexton is seeking a hearing within 24 hours to challenge a court’s temporary order allowing members of the public to display signs of protest in the Tennessee House of Representatives during the special legislative session on public safety this week.
Lawyers for Sexton and other defendants argue the court overstepped its authority in granting the emergency petition brought by the ACLU of Tennessee.
“The core question before the court is not what rules should apply to at the special session, but rather who should decide what rules should apply,” the legal filing said.
“The court’s rushed temporary restraining order intrudes on the core exercise of a co-equal branch’s authority. The disregard for separation of powers in this instance threatens to erode the structural protections that fortify the judicial and executive branches against undue incursion by the General Assembly.”
A new House rule banning the holding of signs in committee hearings and public galleries was adopted this week during a contentious session called by Gov. Bill Lee in the aftermath of mass violence at Nashville’s Covenant School. Lawyers defending the ban argued it is consistent with similar rules adopted by Congress and other state legislatures.
The ACLU of Tennessee is representing three women holding 8.5 x 11 signs protesting gun violence against children who were escorted out of a legislative subcommittee hearing by the Tennessee Highway Patrol on Tuesday.
The ACLU filed suit the following day, naming Sexton, the chief clerk of the House, its Sergeant at Arms and a colonel of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
The suit argued the House ban violated Constitutionally-guaranteed free speech and freedom-of-assembly rights.
Soon after it was filed, Davidson County Chancellor Anne Martin issued a temporary restraining order blocking the Tennessee House of Representatives from enforcing the sign ban. Martin also set a hearing in the case for Sept. 5. No new hearing date has been set.
Immediately after Martin’s ruling was issued, members of the public gathered at the legislature to advocate for stronger gun regulations held signs aloft during committee hearings and in public galleries above the House floor.sexton respone
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