redistricting

New TNJ edition alert: Ogles rolls in 5th

The latest edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Ogles cruises to 11-point victory in Republican primary for redrawn 5th District seat.

— Martin appears to edge Smiley for Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

— State Reps. Ramsey, Weaver defeated in GOP primaries, but Sherrell and Warner hold on.

— State Senate Republican leader Jack Johnson narrowly turns back primary challenge from conservative activist Gary Humble.

— Local race roundup: Democrat topples GOP prosecutor in Shelby County, the Wamps roll in Hamilton County, and former GOP lawmakers (mostly) prevail in mayor’s races.

— Obituary: ‘Hang ’Em High’ Joe Casey, a former law-and-order police chief in Nashville.

Also: The majority female state Supreme Court will choose among six male candidates for attorney general, Mark Green and Marsha Blackburn praise Pelosi trip to Taiwan, Biden nominates U.S. attorneys for three districts, and we suggest an acronym for Hagerty’s new state PAC.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Report: Rep. Gloria Johnson had mini-stroke

Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) sits at her desk moved into a hallway in the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville on Jan 28, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) suffered what doctors described as a possible mini stroke over the weekend, according to KnoxTNToday columnist Betty Bean.

Johnson, who is in the process of moving to run for a new House seat after Republicans drew her into the same district as fellow Knoxville Democrat Sam McKenzie, collapsed at a TJ Maxx on Saturday night. Fellow shoppers Michael and Mandy Knott called 911 and informed Johnson’s mother she was being taken to the hospital, Bean reported.

As of the report, Johnson hadn’t yet seen a cardiologist. But she was tentatively diagnosed with a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke. The contributing causes could include campaigning for the newly created District 90 seat during a heat wave and the stress brought on by fundraising and moving to a new neighborhood.

Johnson, who is soon to be 60, is a retired special education teacher and a longtime thorn in the side of Republican leadership in the House.

Read Bean’s full account here.

New TNJ alert: Never mind the constitution, here’s the new state Senate districts

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The new print edition of the Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Supreme Court finds election commission deadlines are more important than pesky constitutional language on state Senate districts.

— Party politics: Lee slow walks (in)action on residency requirements for congressional candidates, dumping 5th District hot potato in lap of state GOP.

— From the campaign trail: 41 state House members get free pass to re-election, Anti-Skulduggery Act to kick in after Brenda Gilmore’s announces plans to withdraw candidacy, and Andy Ogles drops mayoral bid to focus on Congress.

Also: Scott Cepicky wants to tear public education down to the “bare bones,” Butch Spyridon denies “bait and switch” on football stadium, former Nashville Banner executive editor Joe Worley dies, and Todd Warner’s Dixieland band.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Redistricting lawsuit tests judicial philosophy on Tenn. Supreme Court

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

When the applicants for a recent state Supreme Court vacancy were being interviewed, most went out of their way to declare a dedication textualism — the judicial philosophy focusing on the words as written in law books or the constitution rather than the intent behind why they were drafted that way.

The state’s highest court has agreed to take on state’s challenge of a recent ruling throwing out new state Senate maps because lawmakers ignored a provision in Tennessee Constitution that multiple districts within a single county must be consecutively numbered. Under the plan passed in January, Nashville would be home to districts 17, 19, 20, and 21 — meaning three of four seats would come up for election in the same year.

Here is what the Tennessee Constitution says on the matter:

In a county having more than one senatorial district, the districts shall be numbered consecutively.

A three-judge panel made up of two Republicans and one Democrat determined that while state Attorney General Hebert Slatery’s office had made a “detailed and nuanced” argument for why lawmakers had arrived at the House maps, the record did not include a sufficient explanation for why federal law or the U.S. Constitution “mandated the non-sequential numbering” of Senate districts.

Slatery’s office in a legal response to the lawsuit backed by the state Democratic Party argued the case should be thrown out for the plaintiff’s lack of standing, the absence of harm to voters, and because opponents had taken too long sue.

“The consecutive numbering of senatorial districts is solely an administrative distinction,” according to the state.

Supporters also argued past failures to consecutively number districts had gone unchallenged, though the historical record suggests otherwise.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to skip the intermediate Court of the Appeals and take up the case directly. Plaintiffs have until 1 p.m. Central on Monday to file their response the government’s motions to overturn the ruling and to lift an injunction on implementing the new maps while the challenge is underway.

UPDATE 1: The court’s newest justice is former associate solicitor general Sarah Campbell. She said during confirmation hearings she would recuse herself from cases involving legal matters she had personally bee involved in while at the AG’s office. A courts spokeswoman says Campbell did not participate in the legal advice given to Republican lawmakers during the redistricting debate.

Campbell previously recused herself from an appeal of the state’s school voucher law and by a man seeking consideration of early release from his life sentence for first-degree murder when he was 16 years old.

UPDATE 2: Plaintiffs have filed their motions. Here’s an excerpt:

In setting out the supposed parade of horribles that will flow from the injunction and touting the State’s compelling interest in the integrity of its election process, not once do Defendants acknowledge the bedrock requirement that the General Assembly must comply with the Tennessee
Constitution in enacting its voting district maps. This is a striking omission. Indeed, the State’s compelling interest in its election process is rendered meaningless if the State can run roughshod over the Constitution simply because fixing the problem is not convenient.

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.

State files appeal of order halting new Tennessee Senate maps

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) presides over the chamber on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Attorney General’s Office has filed a challenge to a three-judge panel’s order halting Tenenssee Senate redistricting maps with the state Court of Appeals. The state is also asking the court to lift an injunction on the current districts and reverse the decision to move the candidate filing deadline from today until May 5.

“The trial court’s injunction requires Defendants to immediately and drastically modify the already-ongoing procedures for elections,” the state said in its appeal. A motion for the Supreme Court to reach down and bypass the intermediate Court of Appeals is expected on Friday.

The state requests an expedited review of its appeal (though the plaintiffs will no doubt be sure to point out that the state successfully opposed efforts to expedite their case on the trial court level to go to summary judgement by March 9).

According the state:

The trial court’s decision to extend the qualifying deadline to May 5, 2022 throws this process into disarray. Now the withdrawal and disqualification deadlines are May 12, 2022, and the appeal deadline and state executive committee review deadline are May 19, 2022. The injunction leaves only 21 business days for the county election administrators to do everything that is necessary to have ballots ready to mail to military and overseas voters by the federal deadline.

The appeal plows similar ground as the state’s original response to the lawsuit, which includes arguments that the plaintiffs don’t have standing, won’t be harmed by the new maps, and waited too long to file their lawsuit.

Judges block state Senate redistricting plan, let House maps stand

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), left, walks to look at a proposed House redistricting map on Dec. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A three-judge panel has issued an injunction against Tennessee’s new state Senate maps, but allowed the House plan to stand.

The panel in a 2-1 decision enjoined Senate elections from moving forward under the original timetable, ordering lawmakers to come up with new maps to fix defects within 15 days. If they can’t meet the deadline, the court will come up with its own interim plan. The order moves the candidate filing deadline for Senate candidates from Thursday to May 5.

The lawsuit backed by the state Democratic Party argued Senate Republicans failed to meet a requirement in the state constitution that multiple districts within single counties must be consecutively numbered.

The ruling came from Nashville Chancellor Russell Perkins and Bradley County Circuit Judge J. Michael Sharp. Jackson Chancellor Steven W. Maroney dissented.

As The Tennessee Journal has previously reported:

Under the new state Senate maps, Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile’s District 18 no longer extends from its Sumner County base into the eastern sliver of Nashville. GOP mapmakers instead added about 68,000 people from the city’s diverse Antioch area to neighboring Republican Sen. Mark Pody’s District 17 in Wilson County. The changes, Democrats note, mean the four Senate districts meeting in Metro Nashville are no longer sequentially numbered (the Democratic seats are the 19th, 20th, and 21st).

The Tennessee Constitution’s language is unambiguous when it comes to the topic: “In a county having more than one senatorial district, the districts shall be numbered consecutively.” The idea behind the requirement is that since odd and even numbered districts’ four-year terms are staggered, counties shouldn’t have a disproportionate number turn over at the same time.

Republicans followed the numbering requirement in neighboring Williamson County, which became too large to accommodate Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson’s old District 23. After handing off a 32,000-person area to Sen. Joey Hensley’s District 28, Johnson’s seat was renumbered as the 27th. Similarly, Sen. Bill Powers’ District 22 in Montgomery County had 3,977 too many residents, so fellow Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts picked them up and had his district renumbered from 25 to 23.

When challenged about the disparity in the floor debate [in January], Johnson said there were previous examples of nonsequential districts when Democrats controlled the redistricting process. The Franklin Republican also warned that renumbering senators’ current districts could unconstitutionally shorten or extend their four-year terms. While other solutions are “not impossible, it’s quite impractical to meet that requirement,” Johnson said.

Rep. Jerry Sexton says he won’t run again

Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station)

State Rep. Jerry Sexton, a Bean Station Republican best known for his efforts to declare the Bible the official book of Tennessee, isn’t running for another term in the House.

Sexton made the announcement at the Grainger County Lincoln Day Dinner, according to an attendee.

Sexton was drawn together with Rep. Rick Eldridge of Morristown as part of this year’s redistricting process, meaning the two incumbents would have had to run against each other in the Republican primary to try to hold on to the seat. But Eldridge was expected to have the advantage because his home county of Hamblen has a larger share of the population on the new district than Sexton’s Grainger County.

3-judge panel: No need to rush on redistricting lawsuit

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), left, walks to look at a proposed House redistricting map on Dec. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A three-judge panel has declined a request by the plaintiffs in a Democratic Party lawsuit to expedite proceedings. The judges said they weren’t convinced they had the authority to hurry up the case and that “expediting these proceedings as requested would not allow the important constitutional questions to be fully and meaningfully considered and adjudicated on the merits.”

The lawsuit claims the state House maps could have been drawn with fewer than 30 split counties and that the Senate plan violated a constitutional requirement for districts to be consecutively numbered in Nashville.

Here’s the order:

This reapportionment case was filed on February 23, 2022. Plaintiffs Akilah Moore, Telise Turner, and Gary Wright are suing Defendants Governor Bill Lee, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, and Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins in their official capacities, claiming that the State House and Senate maps are unconstitutionally drawn. Plaintiffs’ unverified Complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. On March 1, 2022, the Tennessee Supreme Court entered an Order designating the undersigned as the Three Judge Panel (“Panel”) to hear this case.

On March 2, 2022, Plaintiffs filed Plaintiffs’ Motion to Set Hearing and Expedited Briefing Schedule on Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the Alternative, for Expedited Trial (“Motion to Expedite”). On March 3, 2022, Defendants filed Defendants’ Response in Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Set Hearing and Expedited Briefing Schedule on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the Alternative, for Expedited Trial (“Response in Opposition”). On March 4, 2022, Plaintiffs filed Plaintiffs’ Reply in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion to Set Hearing and Expedited Briefing Schedule on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the Alternative, for Expedited Trial (“Plaintiffs’ Reply”). After conferring, the Panel entered an Order on March 3, 2022, setting Plaintiffs’ Motion to Expedite for a telephonic hearing on March 7, 2022 at 2:30 p.m.

After considering the Motion to Expedite, the record, and the arguments of counsel for the parties, the Panel respectfully DENIES Plaintiffs’ Motion to Expedite on the following grounds:

1.            The Panel was not convinced that it had authority to expedite the proceedings in the fashion requested in the motion.

2.            Given all the attendant circumstances, including Defendants’ preliminary estimate that they needed to develop expert proof to defend Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenges and the possibility that discovery might be necessary, the Panel concludes that expediting these proceedings as requested would not allow the important constitutional questions to be fully and meaningfully considered and adjudicated on the merits.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

/Signed/

RUSSELL T. PERKINS, Chief Judge

J. MICHAEL SHARP Judge

STEVEN W. MARONEY, Chancellor

New TNJ edition alert: Redistricting lawsuit, oral arguments over vouchers, 5th District field grows

The latest edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it:

— Democratic lawsuit claims GOP remap unlawful for county splits, district numbers.

— Likely swing vote silent in Supreme Court rehash of voucher arguments.

— Harwell, Winstead join 5th District race despite Trump endorsement.

— Slatery slams legislative proposal to move consumer advocate office.

— After pandemic-related stagnation, lobbying spending on rise in 2021.

Also:

Lee unveils details of proposed overhaul of school funding formula, Juneteenth holiday runs into House roadblock, HBO’s John Oliver mocks John Ragan, and a fee to access to the Sunsphere observation deck.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.