Tennessee sued over State House and Senate redistricting maps
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee Democratic Party-backed lawsuit seeks to block new redistricting maps for the state House and Senate, arguing that Republican lawmakers who drew the maps violated the state Constitution. state to keep a firm grip on their partisan advantages.
The challenge filed in Davidson County Chancery Court by three voters on Wednesday is the first in the state lawmakers’ once-a-decade redistricting process. He claims Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both houses, have divided more counties than needed in the House to create districts with roughly equal populations and misnumbered Senate districts. The Republicans argued that their map-making work complied with state and federal requirements.
The challenge does not target the more high-profile American House map, which has drawn attention for carving up left-leaning Nashville into three districts that stretch far into suburbs and rural areas, favoring republicans.
The decision prompted Democratic U.S. Representative Jim Cooper to declare that he would not seek re-election because he could not win any of the three seats in Nashville. This week, another Republican candidate lined up in a growing GOP field for the vacant seat — former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville.
The Tennessee Democratic Party said it was footing the lawsuit bill for districts in the state.
“Tennessees should choose their own representatives, not the other way around,” Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Hendrell Remus said in a press release. “From the start, we doubted that Tennessee’s redistricting process was open and fair. Unfortunately, Republicans also broke the law in our state’s Gerrymander. »
The House plan places Democratic incumbents in the same district twice and Republican incumbents are paired once, not counting lawmakers leaving office.
On the Democratic side, Representatives London Lamar and Torrey Harris would be in the same district of Memphis and Representatives Gloria Johnson and Sam McKenzie would be in the same district of Knoxville. Lamar plans to run for an empty Senate seat. Johnson said she would move out and run for another House seat.
Meanwhile, GOP Reps. Jerry Sexton and Rick Eldridge are said to be in the same district that includes Grainger County and part of Hamblen County.
Democrats argue the map dilutes the power of minority voters, particularly in the way it divides Memphis and Rutherford County, which includes suburban Nashville, a city and region that has boomed since the last census. The map divides 30 counties, the maximum allowed for the State House.
The lawsuit says a Democratic proposal would have divided counties seven fewer and brought districts closer to the ideal population per seat.
On the Senate side, the lawsuit argues that Republican lawmakers did not number four districts that include Nashville consecutively, which matters because senators serve four-year terms and their elections are staggered. The lawsuit says the numbering used puts three of Nashville’s seats on the ballot in gubernatorial years and one in presidential years.
GOP Senate Chairman Randy McNally told reporters Thursday that he believes the state can successfully defend the maps, while House Speaker Cameron Sexton called the redistricting effort ” just and constitutional” and slammed Democrats for funding an “irresponsible lawsuit.” And state Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s spokeswoman Samantha Fisher said the office is “prepared to uphold the results of an open and fair process.”
On the Congressional map, meanwhile, it’s still unclear what kind of challenge might follow.
Any litigation comes up against significant obstacles. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that federal courts will not arbitrate partisan gerrymandering.
Additionally, Nashville likely doesn’t have enough minority voters to constitute a district’s majority, a key argument under federal suffrage protections. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Alabama further dampens Nashville’s prospects in court, as justices ruled the election was too imminent to consider changes to the state’s congressional map.
Tennessee also lacks anti-gerrymandering laws for congressional cards similar to those in North Carolina and Ohio, where state supreme courts have thrown out their cards.
Nashville’s new open seat attracted several Republican candidates outside of Harwell.
Morgan Ortagus, the former State Department spokesman under former President Donald Trump, has Trump’s endorsement in the race. Video producer Robby Starbuck has the endorsement of US Senator Rand Paul. Retired National Guard Brig. General Kurt Winstead and small business owner Baxter Lee are in the running. Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles is considering an offer.
The Democratic side is less clear. Odessa Kelly, a community organizer from Nashville, had run for Cooper’s seat and says she is now assessing what her next steps will be.
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