NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Metro Nashville has filed suit against state leaders for what it calls an “unconstitutional legislative overreach” of local governance.
In the documents obtained by News 2, Metro Nashville Director of Law Wally Dietz said Metro is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the implementation of Senate Bill 87, which would cap the number of representatives in a metropolitan form of government at 20, effectively halving the size of the 40-member Metro Council. The bill was hurdled through the legislature this term, passing along party lines, and signed by Gov. Bill Lee within an hour of receiving it from the Senate last week, the quickest turnaround for any legislation this year.
In the filing, Dietz said Metro Nashville is a “not simply an instrumentality of the State,” as some lawmakers implied it is during floor debates and in committee hearings. The “Metro Council Reduction Act,” as it is called in court documents, violates numerous provisions of the Tennessee Constitution, including the “Home Rule Amendment” and provisions outlining the four-year terms of Metro Councilmembers.
The suit names Gov. Lee, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins as defendants in the case.
“If the General Assembly can unilaterally unwind an existing metropolitan government’s legislative body, the Home Rule Amendment’s constitutional requirement for local approval of a consolidated government charter becomes meaningless,” Dietz said in court documents.
Further, Metro argues, the “arbitrary” timeline imposed by the legislation—upon receiving the governor’s signature, Metro had a 30-day window in which to redraw its district lines; it was also required to submit new maps to the Metro Planning Commission by May 1—only “creates confusion and chaos among citizens and candidates” and “ignores numerous other constitutional prohibitions.”
“For these reasons, the Court should declare the Metro Council Reduction Act unconstitutional an enjoin its enforcement,” the filing states.
Metro is asking the Chancery Court for judgment and an order declaring the Metro Council Reduction Act “facially unconstitutional” under both the Consolidation Clause and the Local Legislation Clause in Article XI, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution as well as under Article VII, Section 1 of the Tennessee Constitution, and that the Aug. 3, 2023 Metro Nashville election “proceed as planned before the Metro Council Reduction Act’s passage.”
In a press conference on the suit Monday, Dietz said the legal action was “very likely the most important lawsuit in the history of the Metropolitan Government.”
“Metropolitan Government has been in effect for 60 years, and I cannot think of another lawsuit that is more important than this one,” he said.
Fielding questions from reporter, Dietz stressed that the legal action was not something Metro took likely.
“We did not start this fight,” he said. “We are filing a lawsuit because we have to, to protect our constitutional rights. We didn’t want this. We didn’t want any of this to happen.”
He added that the courts were going to have to step in and “bring some definition” to the relationship between Metro and state government.
“We are either going to have a future where the legislature can do whatever it wants to do without regard for our rights,” he said, or “the other option is they have to respect our constitutional rights.”
Whether the Metro Council has 40 members or fewer should be up to the voters of Nashville, as the legislature “does not have the constitutional authority to come in and change our charter without our approval,” according to Dietz.
“Voters need to decide that issue,” he said.
| READ MORE | Latest headlines from Nashville and Davidson County
The suit was not political in nature, Dietz stressed, but simply a case of the Metro Nashville Government standing up for its constitutional rights and those of every voter in the county.
“The constitution could not be clearer on this,” he said. “They cannot do this without giving us a chance to vote, and they cannot extend terms for a term other than four years, so the constitution is clear; we expect to win.”
Another issue by the new law is minority representation. Multiple members of Nashville’s legislative designation argued in committee and on the chamber floor that reducing the size of Metro Council dilute minority representation, possibly in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Dietz affirmed these concerns, saying in part, “The 40-member council was part of a deal that was made between various constituencies in the county to make sure that the Metro Council would have adequate minority representation.”
This case, Dietz reiterated, would likely be the most important in the history of Metro Nashville-Davidson County.
“The outcome of this case will determine the history of state and local relations for decades to come, so we ask the court to protect our rights,” he said.
News 2 reached out to the governor’s office who said it “could not comment on pending litigation.” News 2 also reached out to the offices of Secretary Hargett and Elections Coordinator Goins for comment. We have not yet heard back.
📲 Download the News 2 app to stay updated on the go.
📧 Sign up for WKRN email alerts to have breaking news sent to your inbox.
💻 Find today’s top stories on WKRN.com for Nashville, TN and all of Middle Tennessee.
This is a developing story. WKRN News 2 will continue to update this article as new information becomes available.