Judges block Tennessee’s motion to halve Nashville City Council

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Metropolitan Council of the Democrat-leaning city of Nashville will keep all 40 seats for the time being, according to a tentative decision issued by three state judges on Monday. The ruling hampers efforts by state Republican lawmakers to halve the council after blocking the 2024 Republican Congress from coming to music city.

Nashville has operated under a 40-council combined city-county system of government since 1963, when leaders wrestled with the consolidation of the city and surrounding county while proponents worked to ensure black leaders maintained strong representation there.

The new law in question would require Nashville to establish new council districts by May 1, a deadline city officials say is unreasonable.

Three state trial judges — one from Nashville, one from Shelby County, and one in Athens, Tenn. — concurred, saying there is “an overriding public interest in preserving the integrity of the Metro election process already underway.”

Nashville government officials who filed the lawsuit have argued that changing the composition of the council would throw this year’s election into chaos, in part because it would require redrawing of district boundaries after more than 40 candidates launched campaigns.

Monday’s decision blocked the request pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

“The court finds that implementation of the statute and its reduction provisions at this late date will result in upheaval in the election process, risk voter confusion and potentially compromise the integrity of the August 3, 2023 Davidson County general election,” the judges wrote.

Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office is defending the state against the lawsuit. His spokeswoman Elizabeth Lane said the office is still reviewing the decision.

Wally Dietz, the justice director for the Nashville city government, which is seeking to overturn the new law, said in a statement that Nashville officials “are grateful that the court issued an injunction based on its unanimous finding that Metro likely to succeed is our claim that lawmakers violated the constitution by changing the rules only for Metro in the middle of an election.

The state law, which applies only to city or borough governments, would reduce Nashville’s combined council to 20 people. No other city or city government in Tennessee has more than that.

If a metro government cannot make the changes in time for the next election, current members’ terms are to be extended by one year to accommodate the changes, and the next four years would be reduced to three. The election cycle would then suddenly return once every four years.

City officials said the program violated the state constitution.

A quarter of Nashville’s council seats are held by Black members, half by women and five members who identify as LGBTQ+.

Tennessee’s GOP-dominated statehouse passed the halving seat bill earlier this year, one of many proposals Republicans have tabled to turn Nashville’s politics on its head.

A bill would have renamed part of Nashville Rep. John Lewis Way Trump Boulevard. That legislation has since been ramped up for the year. Another measure would reconfigure Tennessee police departments and a third would prevent cities from using public funds to compensate employees who travel abroad for an abortion. Tennessee’s abortion ban is one of the strictest in the United States. Some narrow exceptions are awaiting the governor’s signature.


Kimberlee Kruesi of Nashville contributed to this report.


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