senate

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.

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

Indicted senator cites ‘exciting change’ in personal life in deciding agaisnt re-election bid

State Sen. Brian Kelsey denies wrongdoing in a video conference call following his indictment on Oct. 25, 2021. (Image: screengrab from call)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican awaiting a federal criminal trial related to campaign fundraising during a 2016 congressional bid, announced he won’t seek re-election to the General Assembly this year.

“I will not be running for reelection due to a recent, exciting change in my personal life,” Kelsey wrote on Twitter. “And I look forward to spending more time with my family.”

Kelsey initially vowed to seek a rapid trial in hopes of clearing his name, but was later granted a yearlong delay.

After arguing in favor of the state’s school voucher law in a Supreme Court challenge last year, Kelsey was notably not among the speakers when the case was reheard before the state’s highest court last month.

Feds appeal judge’s decision to throw out 2 of 4 charges in Robinson fraud conviction

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) speaks to reporters after the Senate voted to oust her from the chamber. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Federal prosecutors are appealing a judge’s decision to undo the jury verdict on two of four wire fraud charges former state Sen. Katrina Robinson was convicted of. The Memphis Democrat was ousted from the Senate last week on a 27-5 vote.

While the appeal works its way to the 6th Circuit, the government is also calling for the Memphis Democrat to be sentenced to up 2 1/2 years in prison and urging U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman against agreeing to a lighter sentence because of “the truly extraordinary breadth and scope of [Robinson’s] refusal to accept responsibility.”

“She has not simply declined to admit guilt; she has embarked on an extended campaign — before, during, and after trial; in front of the jury and in frequent statements to the media — to paint herself as the victim,” U.S. Attorney Joseph C. Murphy Jr. wrote in a motion filed Friday. “A consistent and recurring theme of this campaign is that the consequences she is facing are the result not of her own actions but of racial animus on the part of anyone who dares call her to account.”

The prosecutor cites news accounts in the Tennessee Lookout and Commercial Appeal about the Senate ouster, including Robinson’s statement that she was being subjected to a “procedural lynching.”

“This defiant refusal to accept responsibility and to instead cast herself as the wronged party in this case should be reflected in the sentence,” Murphy wrote.

Robinson is scheduled to be sentenced on March 3, and her legal team argued the Senate ouster was premature until her case reaches its official conclusion on that date.

“At this time we are considering every option we have to try to get those last two counts removed or dismissed,” Robinson attorney Larry Laurenzi told the chamber on Wednesday. “And we will continue doing that up until March 3. Has anything been filed today? No. Can I tell you that nothing is going to be filed next week? I can’t tell you that.”

Senate votes to oust Memphis Democrat Katrina Robinson from chamber (UPDATED)

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) addresses colleagues during a floor session to decide whether to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate voted 27-5 to oust Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) from the chamber for federal wire fraud charges related to misspending grant money intended for her nursing schools and her agreement to pretrial diversion on another case.

Robinson called the case a “procedural lynching.”

The chamber earlier voted 16-16 on a motion to delay consideration of the ouster proceedings until after Robinson is sentenced in March, meaning the motion failed. Democratic Sen. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville was missing due to a COVID-19 infection, otherwise the motion might have prevailed.

Several Republicans said later they had been confused about whether the vote was to end debate or delay consideration.

Here is an image gallery of proceedings on Tuesday.

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis), right, attends a floor session in which colleagues were to decide whether to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Democrat state House members watch the Senate discussion of a proposal to oust Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis). From the top are Reps. Torrey Harris of Memphis, Vincent Dixie of Nashville, Sam McKenzie of Knoxville, and Larry Miller of Memphis. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) addresses colleagues during a floor session to decide whether to oust her from the chamber as Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), top, watches on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
A supporter of Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) holds up a sign in the gallery while members considered an ouster proposal in Nashville on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis), center, addresses colleagues during a floor session to decide whether to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson’s attorney, Larry Laurenzi, addresses the Senate chamber during a floor session to decide whether to oust his client from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) speaks to reporters after the Senate voted to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Hagerty passes first bill in U.S. Senate

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks at Nashville event on Dec. 3, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A little more than a year after being sworn into the U.S. Senate, Republican Bill Hagerty of Nashville has passed his first bill.

Here’s the release from Hagerty’s office:

WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) has passed his first authored piece of legislation in the U.S. Senate. The bipartisan bill, which Hagerty introduced with Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Rob Portman (R-OH), would add key technologies impacting national security to the sectors that can utilize the FAST-41 improved federal permitting program, which will encourage development of these technologies in the United States.

“Working to advance constructive policy solutions that create jobs for the American people and bolster our national security is one of the reasons I ran for the Senate, and I am pleased with the passage of this legislation to advance those goals,” Senator Hagerty said. “Encouraging American leadership in key technologies, from semiconductors to advanced computing and cybersecurity, will not only create millions of American jobs, but help America win the strategic competition with Communist China that will define the century.”

The Hagerty legislation builds upon the successful FAST-41 permitting program, which promotes increased coordination between permitting agencies, resulting in a more efficient and streamlined process, without compromising health, safety, or environmental protection. By adding key technology areas impacting national security as eligible sectors, these projects can benefit from the same fast-track program. Improving permitting coordination and certainty reduces time constraints, allowing these products to move to market faster and making it more likely that companies will locate their facilities in the United States, rather than abroad, and therefore hiring American workers.

The existing FAST-41 permitting program was established in 2015 to increase investment in American infrastructure and jobs, and it was made permanent and improved upon in the recent bipartisan infrastructure legislation. National-security sectors will now also be able to take advantage of this improved process, which should dramatically reduce the time required to stand up new manufacturing capacity in strategically critical sectors, such as semiconductor fabrication.

Hagerty’s legislation passed the Senate by voice vote, 100-0.

The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Come and knock on our door: Senate GOP would have three districts meet in Nashville (UPDATED)

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) appears at a Senate redistricting meeting in Nashville on Oct. 18, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The figurative white smoke is rising above the state Capitol as Senate Republicans have announced they will reveal their redistricting maps on Thursday.

The Tennessee Journal has learned the Senate preference is for a three-way division of heavily Democratic Nashville that would entail the 6th and 7th districts currently held by Republican Reps. John Rose of Cookeville and Mark Green of Ashland City, respectively, grabbing portions of the capital city. (This paragraph has been updated to show it’s Rose’s 6th, not Scott DesJarlais of the 4th District, that would move into Nashville).

Green would retain only about a third of Williamson County, the traditionally anchor of the 7th District when now-Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) held the seat. The remainder would become part of the new-look 5th District that has been held by Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper since 2003.

Rapidly growing Rutherford County would remain entirely within the 4th District, which would likely require an overall westward migration of the seat’s boundaries. DesJarlais is from the eastern side of the district.

The House GOP is scheduled to make its draft congressional maps public on Wednesday amid comments by House Speaker Cameron Sexton that Nashville could be split into two or three districts.

The two chambers have been understood to be at odds about how exactly to go about gaining an eighth seat, so the final shape of the plan could still change.

Redistricting: How Senate Democrats would do it

Democrats in the state Senate have submitted a plan for the chamber’s seats as part of the once-per-decade redistricting process.

Democrats currently hold six of 33 seats in the chamber. Republicans have yet to release their draft plan.

Here’s the release from the Senate Democratic caucus:

NASHVILLE—Nearly every city in the state and 87 counties are kept whole in Tennessee Senate districts under a proposed statewide map released Friday by Democrats.

“This proposal keeps communities together—whole counties and whole cities wherever possible,” says Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the Tennessee Senate minority leader. “We want every member of every community to know that their voice matters in the state Senate and that their vote will make a difference.”

Democrats are releasing their 33–district Senate proposal after gathering input directly from Tennesseans at five public community meetings across the state. Additionally, members of the Democratic caucus participated in dozens more meetings hosted by local organizations to discuss how districts should change in 2022.

“This is a fair map that directly incorporates feedback from people and organizations who told us, ‘please keep our city together,’” Sen. Raumesh Akbari said. “This is a map that keeps more cities and more communities together than ever before. It’s a map that makes senators more accountable to the voters they serve.”

Biggest changes

Most of the districts in this proposal shift toward Middle Tennessee to accommodate for the region’s explosive population growth. But every district in the proposal retains core characteristics from the current map.

  • Antioch added to La Vergne & Smyrna’s Senate Seat: Senate District 13 maintains its base in western Rutherford County, but it now extends into southeast Nashville to create a full a Senate District for like-communities of Antioch, La Vergne and Smyrna along the I-24 corridor.
  • Bradley County unsplit. This proposal undoes a controversial decision from 2012: splitting Bradley County into two districts. Senate District 10 instead returns to Hamilton County with its lines around the city of Chattanooga and Senate District 9 takes in the whole of Bradley County along with McMinn, Meigs and Rhea counties.
  • Full Senate Seat within Montgomery County: Following a decade where they county saw a near 30 percent growth in population, the city of Clarksville almost qualifies to have its very own state senate seat. In this proposal, Senate District 22 sheds two counties to the west and now captures the core of Clarksville along with unincorporated areas north of the Cumberland River.
  • West Tenn. Districts Get Bigger: West Tennessee saw slow growth in many counties and population loss in others — a trend that forces senate districts to expand geographically. As such: Senate District 24 grows east from six to eight counties. Senate District 26 grows east from eight to nine counties. Senate District 27 grows from 5 to 6 counties. And Senate District 32 grows from Tipton County and a portion of Shelby County to three counties and a portion of Shelby.

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