Holly McCall, Tennessee Lookout
A coalition of civil rights and civic organizations has filed a federal lawsuit alleging Tennessee’s 2022 redistricting plan violates the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the rights of Black voters.
Filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on Wednesday, the suit names Gov. Bill Lee, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, state Election Coordinator Mark Goins and members of the state election commission and specifically focuses on the redrawing of the former 5th Congressional District and state Senate District 31.
The suit charges the Tennessee Legislature, during the redistricting process following the completion of the 2020 U.S. Census, subordinated traditional redistricting principles in order to minimize Black votes by “cracking” and “packing” methods of gerrymandering, limiting voter input and participation and speeding the development and passage of the redistricting plan.
“Cracking” refers to the process in which districts are drawn to divide a population or constituency across multiple districts in order to dilute the group’s influence. The suit alleges members of the legislature intentionally split the former 5th Congressional District, which included all of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County, into three districts that now include rural and predominantly white areas.
Republican Andy Ogles won the new 5th District seat, which includes portions of Davidson, Wilson, Williamson, Maury, Marshall and Lewis counties. Other parts of Davidson County are in the 6th District, which stretches north to Kentucky and east to encompass much of the Cumberland Plateau, and the 7th District, which extends into West Tennessee.
Concentrating an opposing party or group’s voters into one district in order to dilute its political power is known as “packing.”
“We can’t allow jurisdictions to put on a mask and say ‘it’s not racist, it’s just partisan,’ when we have the evidence to suggest otherwise,” said Mitchell Brown, attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ.)
Legislators also made racially discriminatory choices when drawing Senate districts in Shelby County, the suit claims, after Gabby Salinas — a Hispanic woman — lost to former Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey by just over 1% of the vote in 2018.
Complaints about the redistricting plan haven’t been restricted to Democrats and civil rights groups. Prior to the 2022 general election, U.S. Rep. Mark Green, a Republican who represents Congressional District 7, called the new maps “inherently unfair.” Nashville community organizer Odessa Kelly, who is Black, challenged Green after initially filing to run for Congress in District 5.
Plaintiffs include The Equity Alliance, the A. Philip Randolph Institute in Memphis, the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Tennessee, the African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee and individuals including former state Sen. Brenda Gilmore and Metro Nashville Public Schools board member Freda Player.
The SCSJ are representing plaintiffs in the case, as is the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law and Nashville firm, Sperling & Slater and Winston and Strawn in New York.
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