Lawsuit says Tennessee’s US House and state Senate maps discriminate against communities of color

Aug 9, 2023, 1:43 PM | Updated: 2:08 pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee is facing its first court challenge over a congressional redistricting map that carved up Democratic-leaning Nashville to help Republicans flip a seat in last year’s elections, a move that the plaintiffs say has unconstitutionally diluted the power of Black voters and other communities of color.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court in Nashville says the U.S. House maps and those for the state Senate amount to unconstitutional racial gerrymandering under the 14th and 15th amendments. The plaintiffs include the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, the African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee, the Equity Alliance, the League of Women Voters of Tennessee and several Tennessee voters, including former state Sen. Brenda Gilmore.

By splintering Nashville into three Republican-majority districts that stretch into rural counties, Tennessee’s congressional maps sparked significant pushback and threats of litigation from Democrats after Republicans drew them up early last year.

With the new lines in play, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville declined to seek reelection, saying he couldn’t win any of the three new seats drawn to split the city during the once-a-decade redistricting process. The Republican advantage held true, as Rep. John Rose won reelection by about 33 percentage points, Rep. Mark Green won another term by 22 points, and Rep. Andy Ogles won his first term by 13 points in the district vacated by Cooper.

The strategy shifted Tennessee to eight Republicans in the U.S. House, with just one Democrat left in Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen.

“The Tennessee Legislature split Nashville into three districts and splintered my neighborhoods,” said Gilmore, a former Democratic state senator who is Black. “And most harmful of all, the redistricting plan attacked African American voters, both diluting our voices, our vote and people who look like me, and other people of color, from electing candidates of our choice.”

Additionally, the lawsuit challenges state Senate District 31 in majority-Black Shelby County, including part of Memphis. It’s represented by Republican Sen. Brent Taylor.

The new lawsuit in Tennessee comes as the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a redistricting challenge over South Carolina’s congressional lines similarly on 14th and 15th amendment claims. In that case, a panel of federal judges previously ruled that a congressional district there was intentionally redrawn to split Black neighborhoods to dilute their voting power.

“The South Carolina case is absolutely relevant to our case because the claims in this case and that case are identical. They’re very similar,” said Pooja Chaudhuri, an attorney with The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the legal groups that helped bring the lawsuit.

Mitchell Brown of the Lawyers’ Committee said the choice not to file the Tennessee lawsuit earlier helped in part because the attorneys were able to see the results of 2022 elections, during which Black and brown voters’ candidates of choice lost by big margins. That includes Odessa Kelly, a Black Democrat defeated by Rep. Green in one congressional race.

Republican legislative leaders in Tennessee have said population shifts elsewhere in the growing state and significant growth in and around Nashville justified dividing the city up. They have contended that they met the legal requirements needed to withstand any lawsuits.

The lawsuit also accuses Republican lawmakers of passing the maps through a “opaque, inadequate, and rushed process designed to forestall public scrutiny, minimize backlash, and stifle any meaningful debate or dissent.”

Meanwhile, Tennessee’s state legislative maps are still facing another lawsuit on state constitutional grounds. A ruling could be handed down sometime soon.

Tennessee’s previous congressional map before the 2022 redistricting process kept Nashville together in one seat, extending into two additional counties and totaling about a 24% Black population. That means that Nashville likely doesn’t have enough minority voters to make up a district’s majority — a key number to hit for certain protections under the Voting Rights Act. However, the lawsuit instead focuses on other rights under the U.S. Constitution.

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts is none of its business, limiting those claims to be decided in state courts under their own constitutions and laws.

Republicans in South Carolina’s case, in part, said they were driven by political interests, not race, in drawing their maps.

United States News

Associated Press

Philadelphia police officer shot by fleeing suspect is in critical condition

A Philadelphia police officer was shot in the neck and was in critical condition Saturday night, officials said. The 31-year-old officer was in critical condition and undergoing surgery at Temple University Hospital, Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel said during a news conference outside the hospital. The officer, a veteran of more than six years on the […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

A fourth victim has died a day after a shooting at an Arkansas grocery store, police say

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Police say a fourth victim has died a day after a shooting at an Arkansas grocery store. The person died Saturday evening, Arkansas state police said in a statement. A total of 14 people were wounded in Friday’s shooting, according to police: “11 civilians, two law enforcement officers and the […]

6 hours ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Saturda...

Associated Press

Trump endorses Ten Commandments in schools, implores evangelical Christians to vote in November

Trump endorsed displaying the Ten Commandments in schools while speaking to a group of politically influential evangelical Christians.

6 hours ago

Associated Press

2 people were taken to a hospital after lightning struck a tree near a PGA Tour event in Connecticut

CROMWELL, Conn. (AP) — Two people were taken to the hospital Saturday after lightning struck a tree near a home along a golf course that is hosting the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship. The home is just north of the fifth green at TPC River Highlands, which is hosting the tournament one week after the U.S. […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

Jury awards more than $13 million to ultramarathon athlete injured in fall on a Seattle sidewalk

SEATTLE (AP) — A jury awarded $13.1 million to an ultramarathon athlete who was severely injured when she fell on a Seattle sidewalk in 2021. The award by a King County jury found that the city of Seattle and the owners of an apartment building are responsible for the amount, the Seattle Times reported. Lesley […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

Rains, cooler weather help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

RUIDOSO, N.M. (AP) — Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico on Saturday that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. Fire crews took advantage of temperatures in the 70s, scattered showers and light winds to […]

13 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Lawsuit says Tennessee’s US House and state Senate maps discriminate against communities of color