NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A coalition of civil rights groups and Black Tennessee residents filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday alleging the state’s newly drawn voting maps discriminate against people of color.
The plaintiffs in a 49-page complaint include the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Tennessee, the Equity Alliance, several Tennessee voters, and others.
They claim Tennessee lawmakers “made the conscious choice to manipulate the population of the districts by race” when they drew new district lines in Davidson and Shelby counties.
In 2022, state lawmakers, led by a GOP supermajority, redrew the map in a way that splintered Davidson County into three congressional districts that included parts of surrounding counties.
Following the redrawing, the incumbent Democrat representing Nashville did not run for reelection and Republicans took control of all three districts.
“I am now in Congressional District 7, which extends to the southwest part of our state, placing me in the same congressional districts as overwhelmingly white and conservative counties,” said plaintiff Judy Cummings.
The lawsuit also challenges the state Senate map drawn because of how it divided up Shelby County.
“The redistricting plan attacked African American voters,” said plaintiff and former state senator Brenda Gilmore.
However, what one side calls “unconstitutional racial gerrymandering,” the other said is an opportunity.
In 2022, State Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) said, “The fact that now you’ll have three congressmen representing portions of Davidson County and a fourth representing Rutherford County, a total of four congressmen. That’s four out of the 435 representing this geographic area.”
Yet Cummings said she feels like she has less of a voice now than before the redistricting.
“I am now represented by a House member who has yet to reach out to me or my community by either mail, a newsletter, snail mail, a town hall, a text, I haven’t even received a robo call,” Cummings said.
While it is illegal to draw maps on racial lines, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it is not illegal to draw maps along partisan lines.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they anticipate this argument from the defendants.
“We cannot allow racially discriminatory plans to masquerade as if they’re just pure partisan politics,” said Damon Hewitt, the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Members of the Republican Party remain confident the courts are legal.
“The maps approved by the General Assembly were carefully considered fair and legal maps,” a spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally told the AP. “Lt. Governor McNally is confident the court will agree.”
The Tennessee Attorney General’s office did not respond directly to the allegations in the filing when asked for comment.
“The plaintiffs chose to go to the press before serving us with the complaint; we will review it once served,” said Chief of Staff Brandon Smith.