NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Metro leaders, including Director of Law Wally Dietz, are announcing the implications of the court ruling putting a temporary pause on the Metro Council Reduction Act.
Monday afternoon, a three-judge panel issued a ruling temporarily blocking the implementation of the law, which passed in March and was immediately signed by Gov. Bill Lee.
“Our system of government is based on checks and balances,” Dietz said in the press conference. “When one branch violates the Constitution or overreaches, our independent judiciary is designed to step in and protect constitutional rights and the public interest. That is exactly what that three-judge panel did yesterday.”
The law requires all metropolitan governments to cap their members at 20 and stipulates any metropolitan government not currently in compliance to submit new maps within 30 days of the law’s passage and adopt them by May 1. The law would have required the Metro Planning Department to fast-track a redistricting process that Metro leaders said caused chaos on an election process already underway.
Metro sued state leaders, including the governor, Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins, and Secretary of State Tre Hargett, citing the Tennessee Constitution’s Home Rule Amendment, which states local governments get to make their own decisions, and the state cannot pass laws that only apply to a specific city without that city’s buy-in.
“In passing the Metropolitan Council Reduction Act, the legislature was guilty of egregious overreach,” Dietz said. “The governor sided with the legislature. We had no choice but to go to court and protect Metro’s rights and the public interest in having an orderly election. We are very grateful that the Court heard the case and ruled expeditiously.”
According to the ruling, Metro proved it was “likely to succeed” in its argument that the rapid implementation portion of the law violated the Home Rule Amendment, as it only pertained to Metro and no other governments in the state.
Tennessee currently has three metropolitan governments, but only Metro Nashville-Davidson County has a council made up of more than 20 people. The implementation section in the law would apply only to metro as it is written.
Assistant Director of Law Allison Bussell, who took the lead on representing Metro in court last week, explained that the Court agreed with Metro that Section 1(b) of the law imposing the rapid turnaround in new maps “illegally targeted Metro Nashville in violation of the Local Legislation clause in the Home Rule Amendment in the Tennessee Constitution.”
“The Court also agreed with Metro Nashville that the speed with which the Act required this redistricting is impracticable and undermines the public interest,” Bussell said. “Now that those requirements have been enjoined, we look forward to all of Metro’s claims being addressed in the ordinary course of the litigation.”
“The Court’s decision yesterday should be a sign to the legislature that it cannot do whatever it wants regardless of the constitution, regardless of the public interest and the impact on the public as a whole. We’re hopeful that they will pay attention to this ruling,” Dietz said.
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While the Court granted the injunction against the rapid implementation, it also said the rest of the law was likely not a violation of Metro’s constitutional rights. That will need to be hashed out in court later.
The injunction is only a preliminary pause on the law. Metro and the state will be facing each other in court for a while yet as both sides make their case.
No matter what, though, Metro said it will defend itself to the extent necessary to prevent the state legislature from overreaching its authority and dictating Nashville’s governance without local approval.
“What is clear is that in January legislators launched an assault on Nashville with bill that affect the council, the authorities, our ability to do several things, where it appeared that Metro was the only target of that legislation,” Dietz added. “We have now succeeded in blocking, at least this year, the implementation of one of these bills. To the extent legislation targets Nashville and Nashville alone, we are taking a very hard look at that. We don’t know if those bills will pass, if they will be signed by the governor and what the final form will be, but we are watching them as they progress through the legislature, and, if we determine that the bill only affects Nashville or attacks our charter, which is our constitution, we are very likely to take action.”
“Egregious overreach” is how the city’s law director described the legislatures’ actions to cut Metro Council in half. It’s a move that won’t happen this election after an injunction by a three-panel judge halted the law.
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“This is definitely a win for the people. In 2015, the city said we don’t want to become smaller, so for it to be hoisted on us, that was problematic, right? The conversation needed to have originated within council itself, not from the state, not as retaliation, without being petty, without thinking about what are the ramifications from this, and it was very clear from the beginning that none of that mattered to them,” said District 32 Council Member Joy Styles.
A status conference has been set for next Monday, April 17, according to Bussell.