Judge dismisses legislature-mandated lawsuit over refugees

U.S. District Court Judge S. Thomas Anders on Monday dismissed the state of Tennessee’s lawsuit against the federal government over the refugee resettlement program  — mandated by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature after the state attorney general refused to file it, reports the Associated Press.

The Tennessee General Assembly filed the lawsuit in March 2017, arguing the refugee program is forcing the state to spend money on additional services, including health care and education.

In his dismissal order Monday, … Anderson said it’s speculative for Tennessee to contend that it might lose $7 billion annually in federal Medicaid money if it refuses to spend state money on refugee services through Medicaid. The case includes no allegation that the federal government has made a threat to withhold the money, the judge added.

“The injury that Plaintiffs claim, i.e., loss of all federal Medicaid funding, has not occurred and may never occur,” Anderson wrote.

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Bridge Refugee Services and the Nashville International Center for Empowerment had asked the judge to dismiss the case. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed the motion for them.

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition plans to bring more than 40 refugees to the Capitol complex to visit with lawmakers and share their stories.

…State Attorney General Herbert Slatery declined to file the lawsuit on behalf of legislators, so the suit was filed for free by the Thomas More law firm, which takes up conservative causes in courts. In 2016, Gov. Bill Haslam refused to sign a resolution that passed in the General Assembly demanding the lawsuit. It took effect without his signature.

After the court’s ruling, Tennessee Senate Speaker Randy McNally said lawmakers are discussing appeal options with their attorneys.

“I am obviously dismayed by this decision. The federal government has failed the states and the people on the refugee issue for too long,” McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, said in a statement.

Note: Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, now awaiting U.S. Senate approval of his nomination to become a U.S. District Court judge,  sponsored the resolution authorizing the lawsuit, as noted in the Tennessean report:

In a confirmation hearing, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Norris about the lawsuit and reports he cited that appeared to link refugees with cases of terrorism. Norris replied that he was using public testimony from national intelligence officials.

But Feinstein asked if Norris had any evidence that refugees resettled in Tennessee were terrorists.

“I do not,” he replied.

Some reaction statements in emailed press releases:

From U.S. Rep. Diane Black‘s gubernatorial campaign

Nashville, Tenn.  Today Diane Black released the following statement on U.S. District Judge S. Thomas Anderson’s decision to dismiss Tennessee’s refugee resettlement lawsuit against the federal government:

“I am incredibly disappointed with Judge Anderson’s decision to dismiss Tennessee’s case. This is a slap in the face to the overwhelming majority of Tennesseans who are sick and tired of being forced to foot the federal government’s bill for resettling refugees. The last two governors have outsourced refugee resettlement, and I believe it’s time for the state to take back that responsibility. As governor, I will not tolerate this federal overreach, and I will fight to empower our citizens and keep them safe.”

The lawsuit alleged that the federal government is in violation of the 10th amendment for forcing states to accept refugees without the appropriate funds to resettle them. Despite opting out of the Refugee Resettlement Program, 2,397 refugees arrived in the state in 2016 through the Catholic Charities of Tennessee.

From joint press release of the ACLU and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition

Hedy Weinberg, executive director, ACLU of Tennessee:

“We are gratified that the court has dismissed state lawmakers’ cruel attempt to stop refugee resettlement in Tennessee. This lawsuit was driven by fear-mongering and a discriminatory animus toward Muslims – and we are better than that in Tennessee. The majority of Tennesseans believe in helping those fleeing violence and terror to protect their families. This ruling helps ensure that the values of fair treatment, equality, and compassion for our neighbors that most Tennesseans embrace carry the day.”

Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition

“For years, a handful of legislators have led a quixotic campaign to harm refugees and end resettlement to the state. Hopefully the dismissal of this shameful lawsuit will put these efforts to rest, allowing lawmakers to instead focus on real issues and solutions that strengthen our communities. Today’s ruling is a victory for our members, for refugee families, and for the majority of Tennesseans whose faith and values call them to welcome families fleeing violence and war.”


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