Legislators Seek Immunity from Subpoenas

A potentially ground-breaking gay rights lawsuit could turn on what transpired during a private meeting of Christian conservative businessmen and politicians on a snowy day in January at the LifeWay offices of the Southern Baptist Convention, reports The City Paper.
That 90-minute meeting — a political strategy session — led directly to the state law that overturned Nashville’s anti-gay bias ordinance, and a who’s who of the state’s Christian Right — including lawmakers and Nashville businessman Lee Beaman — are trying to quash subpoenas aimed at forcing them to surrender any documents that might exist about their plans.
A hearing is scheduled this week before Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy — the first skirmish in the lawsuit brought by Metro Council members and others alleging the state law illegally discriminates against gay, lesbian and transgender people.
In an expansive view of legislative privilege contained in the state constitution, Reps. Jim Gotto, R-Nashville, and Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, are claiming a near-blanket immunity from subpoenas.
That privilege in the past has been interpreted only to shield legislators from liability in lawsuits for statements made during debates on the House or Senate floor. But Gotto, Casada and Beavers argue they enjoy immunity for their actions outside the legislature as well, even those that are strictly political in nature.
Also resisting subpoenas are Beaman and officials of Tennessee Family Action Council, an evangelical organization that lobbied heavily for the state law. They contend, variously, that the subpoenas are “far-reaching and unbridled” and make “unreasonable and unduly oppressive” demands for internal documents detailing the council’s political strategies.
By attempting to produce documents to prove the true purpose of the law was to discriminate, the subpoenas are important to the plaintiffs’ case.
During the legislative debate, the law’s advocates denied any anti-gay bias. Instead, they cast their law as an attempt to prevent confusing and burdensome new regulations from popping up all over the state. Nashville’s ordinance barred discrimination against gays by any company doing business with the city government. The state law overturned that ordinance and prohibited any city from adopting such laws in the future anywhere in Tennessee. To underline what they claim as their intent, lawmakers titled the law the “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act.”
…So to win their lawsuit, Tennessee’s plaintiffs must show legislators were deliberately aiming to deny the rights of gay people while claiming they were not — an alleged subterfuge the subpoenas aim to unmask.

Leave a Reply