NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Opponents of Republican-drawn lines for the Tennessee Senate are suing for the redistricting plan to be thrown out on the basis that it ignored proposals made by the Legislature’s Black Caucus, their lawyer said Friday.
Bob Tuke, attorney for the opponents and a former state Democratic Party chairman, told The Associated Press the lawsuit to halt the plan was filed in chancery court in Nashville.
The lawsuit names Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and state elections officials as defendants. Among the eight Shelby County plaintiffs is Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who was drawn together with another Memphis Democrat in the GOP plan, and who is considering challenging Democratic colleagues in both the House and Senate.
It will be heard by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle.
Tennessee lawmakers in January approved new boundaries for the 132 seats in the Tennessee General Assembly and the state’s nine seats in the U.S. House. House Democrats had complained that the proposal, which placed five black incumbents into three seats, could reduce the number of African-Americans serving in the Legislature.
The lawsuit seeks to have the plan thrown out.
The Republican majority ignored proposals by the Legislature’s Black Caucus that would have caused fewer districts to split counties, Tuke said. The state constitution calls for districts to encompass county lines as nearly as possible, he said.
“The Tennessee Supreme Court says sometimes you just can’t help splitting districts,” Tuke said. “But if you do it, you have to have a good reason.”
The lawsuit says the Senate plan enacted by the Legislature would increase the number of split counties from five to eight, and would decrease the number of Senate seats in Memphis and Shelby County from five to four.
“As residents of a county needlessly split by the General Assembly, plaintiffs will be afforded less influence over local legislation affecting Shelby County,” according to the lawsuit said.
Republican leaders during the redistricting process stressed that they met with all Democratic lawmakers except Hardaway, who declined to attend. Republicans have also noted that two key Democratic leaders, Rep. Mike Turner and Sen. Jim Kyle, voted for the plan after last minute negotiations.
Kyle, the Senate minority leader, has maintained that his vote is irrelevant to whether the plan is legal.
The filing deadline for candidates running in this fall’s elections is April 5, and nine Democratic incumbents have already announced they won’t seek re-election this year.
In the Senate, Senate Republicans had rejected Democratic efforts to significantly redraw the maps, though they did make a few concessions that earned them the votes of Democratic Sens. Jim Kyle of Memphis and Andy Berke of Chattanooga, who has since announced he won’t seek re-election.
Kyle was drawn into the same district as Sen. Beverly Marrero, a fellow Memphis Democrat. The seat is one of several which Hardaway is considering a bid this fall.
Note: A PDF of the lawsuit text is available by clicking on this link: Tennessee_Redistricting_Complaint_31412_(00131727).DOCX