How soon we forget? Senate numbering was part of 1981 challenge

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) attends a floor session on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican senators have argued it’s OK for them to have ignored constitutional provisions requiring consecutively-numbered districts in counties with more than one seat. Similar arrangements have occurred in the past, they said, and nobody challenged them. Not so, according to the historical record.

Following the passage of legislative redistricing plans in 1981, independent state Sen. Bill Jim Davis, an independent from Covington, sued to block the new maps. Among his allegations was that the plan had failed to consecutively number districts in counties with with more than one senator. The plan was thrown out in chancery court, but the judge reserved a ruling on the numbering issue because he had already determined the maps to be unconstitutional for other reasons.

The state Supreme Court took up an appeal, and ultimately lifted an injunction against holding elections using the new maps. But the court ordered legislature to come up with new maps that met constitutional muster — including over district numbers.

According to the opinion written by the late Justice Frank Drowota:

In addition to equal protection, preserving minority voting strength, and not crossing county lines, constitutional standards which must be dealt with in any plan include contiguity of territory and consecutive numbering of districts.

The state is appealing a ruling by a three-judge panel throwing out the new Senate maps approved in January. The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to skip the intermediate Court of Appeals in taking up the case.