On Monday, a panel of judges said they believed Republican legislation that would have halved the Metro Nashville Council likely violated state law, and thus temporarily blocked the bill.
The three-judge panel presiding over the case between the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and the State of Tennessee ruled that Nashville was “likely to succeed on the merits” of its claim that state lawmakers had breached a home rule provision of Tennessee law.
By protecting home rule, state legislators cannot unilaterally pass laws that affect particular municipalities without the approval of those municipalities.
The Republican-controlled legislature earlier this year cut the size of the Metro Nashville Council from 40 to 20 members. The legislation was enacted after the Metro Council voted to reject the 2024 Republican National Convention for Nashville.
Republicans claimed their bill was about improving government “efficiency” and wasn’t meant to punish Nashville in particular because it affected all three metropolitan governments.
The Judges Did Point Out, Though, That Nashville’s Metro Government Is The Only One In Tennessee With More Than 20 Representatives
The injunction stated that “the act… appears designed to restructure the metropolitan council, and only the metropolitan council, to reduce its membership by half.”
A majority of the panel also found that another group of Nashville residents had no legal standing to sue. This lawsuit was filed in anticipation of a ruling against the Metro Nashville government, which claims the plaintiffs lack the requisite “standing” to sue.
Metro Nashville Legal Director Wallace Dietz expressed gratitude for the injunction, saying, “We are grateful that the court issued an injunction based on its unanimous finding that Metro is likely to succeed on our claim that the Legislature violated the Constitution by changing the rules for Metro alone in the middle of an election.”
Nashville Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship President Davie Tucker said in a statement, “We’re still digesting the contents of today’s court’s ruling.” However, it appears that the judges have blocked this statute, which is good news for Nashville residents. The conflict is ongoing in other areas as well.
Metro Nashville Had Few Choices After The New Law Went Into Effect
- Adopt a new set of 20 or fewer council districts by May 1 and hold elections for those district seats on Aug. 3.
- Do not redistrict by May 1 and remove council seats from the Aug. 3 ballot, instead extending the current Metro Council’s terms by one year.
- An election would then be held in 2024 with new, compliant district maps, and those new council members would serve three-year terms. Elections would proceed on a regular 4-year term schedule starting in 2027.
Legal proceedings will continue and the three-judge panel has not yet ruled on the merits of the lawsuit, so an injunction does not mean that Metro has won the case. Together, Metro and a group of eight community leaders are suing over concerns that the new law violates the constitutional right of Davidson County residents to vote for their local legislature every four years.
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The state, which was found to be at fault in the injunction case, may now file an appeal. Dietz predicts that the state will bypass the state court of appeals and ask the Tennessee Supreme Court to hear the appeal directly because of the statute’s strict timeline. If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, it will decide whether or not to uphold the injunction as quickly as possible.
Elizabeth Lane, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, whose office represented the state in the case, said, “We are currently reviewing the court’s decision.”
The three-judge panel hearing Nashville’s case against the state of Tennessee ruled that Nashville was “likely to succeed on the merits” of its claim that state lawmakers had broken the home rule provision of Tennessee law.