NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — After a series of barbs in a feud between Metro Nashville and the state of Tennessee, the city scored the latest win when a three-judge panel unanimously struck down a new law surrounding the Nashville Airport Authority board.
With this ruling, the state’s takeover of the board is overturned.
The panel wrote, “the new Board is vacated, and the old Board is reinstated,” ruling the law is unconstitutional because it only targets one county.
“Metro was singled out. Such explanations are unreasonable when the world’s busiest cargo airport is excluded. Indeed, the qualifying criteria and the legislative history demonstrate rather that the Act is solely about Metro,” the panel said.
The “qualifying criteria” included population metrics for metropolitan governments that exclude Memphis International Airport, which the panel noted was in conflict with the state’s argued rationale for the law.
A 2021 report found the world’s busiest cargo airport is located in Memphis due to the location of the FedEx world hub.
The new law shifted much of the appointing power from the mayor to state leadership, which is currently made up entirely of Republicans.
After the state passed the law, Metro Nashville pressed a lawsuit just before it was set to take effect.
In court filings, Metro argued that Section 2 of the law, which details how the new board would be constituted, violated the Home Rule Amendment and the Equal Protection Guarantee of the Tennessee Constitution. Metro also argued that Sections 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9 also violated the Equal Protection Guarantee of the state constitution.
In defending the law, the state argued the law is “of general application and therefore does not violate the Tennessee Constitution,” according to the ruling.
Metro also argued that the law violated an “anti-ripper bill clause” in the Tennessee Constitution. According to the panel, ripper bills “target particular local offices by altering their existing salaries, shortening their terms, or removing incumbents from office.” The panel agreed with Metro’s argument, saying the law “prematurely removes county officers from their offices” and thus constitutes a violation of the Anti-Ripper Bill Clause of Article XI, Section 9 of the state constitution.
Following the ruling, News 2 reached out to both the Tennessee Attorney General’s office and Metro Legal.
Mayor Freddie O’Connell said, “For decades, the MNAA board has been led by some of Nashville’s most prominent business leaders, aviators and engineers. Their decisions show a history of bi-partisan decision-making reflecting a professional board functioning at the highest level. Under the direction of these Nashville leaders, BNA has grown to meet the rapidly expanding needs of our city for today and the future. I look forward to the reinstatement of the locally appointed board.”
Metro Department of Law Director Wally Dietz lauded the ruling, saying, “MNAA is an agency and instrumentality of the Metropolitan Government. The ruling today reinforces Metro’s right to maintain and control the airport authority. Three different three-judge panels have now protected local governments from unconstitutional state overreach. This panel was well-prepared for the argument, and we are grateful the Court carefully considered the legal issues raised.”
The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement, “We are reviewing the decision to determine next steps.”
However, Republican lawmakers have indicated they want Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti to appeal the ruling.
Tennessee House GOP bill sponsor Rep. Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville) posted his frustration with the ruling on social media.
“The Court’s decision on the Airport Authority is a major setback for transparency and fair representation for TN taxpayers. We will continue to fight for the success of our state’s investments. I appreciate the hard work of @AGTennessee and I look forward to an appeal,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
State Rep. Caleb Hemmer (D-Nashville) said he hopes this ruling puts an end to Republican bills he feels target Nashville.
“I’m just very glad that this law has been ruled unconstitutional. It was designed to punish Nashville for purely political purposes and we know that that was wrong,” Hemmer said. “Let’s focus on bills that help Nashville that helped bring up the economy that help our citizens, instead of trying to punish shiny objects that are actually working quite well on its own.”
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This is a developing story. WKRN News 2 will continue to update this article as new information becomes available.