Tennessee’s General Assembly

By Logan Langlois

NASHVILLE, TN —  The state of Tennessee has just received a lawsuit accusing the Tennessee State Legislature of violating the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment rights of “Black voters and other voters of color.” The lawsuit claims that “the state’s Congressional and State Senate districts make unlawful use of the race and subordinates traditional redistricting principles to race,” therefore violating basic rights guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution. Spearheading the lawsuit are several social rights advocacy leaders working in tandem with one another, including the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, League of Women Voters of Tennessee, The Equity Alliance, Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute, African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee, Judy Cummings, Brenda Gilmore, Ophelia Doe, Freda Player, and Ruby Powell-Dennis. 

In their filed document, the lawsuit specifically cites the newly-drawn districts of Davidson and Shelby Counties, claiming that votes of Black voters and other voters of color were diluted by the “packing” of their communities to minimize their electoral votes. The lawsuit further details its accusations against the state, claiming that “The Tennessee Legislature was well aware that its proposed redistricting changes in Davidson and Shelby Counties would dilute the votes of and adversely impact Black voters and other voters of color in those counties.” The document states that prior to the redistricting of Davidson County or CD-5, which Nashville calls home, numerous civil rights groups including several of the lawsuit’s Plaintiffs had testified before the Tennessee Legislature to the importance of keeping all of Davidson County within a single district. 

The lawsuit describes that the testimonies were made in the interest of best allowing Black voters and other voters of color to exercise their influence and elect candidates of their choice. Despite the testimony, the Tennessee Legislature would move ahead with splitting Davidson County and the city of Nashville into three separate Congressional Districts, CD-5, CD-6, and CD-7. The lawsuit elaborates that the result of this plan is the splintering of the electoral strength of Black voters and other voters of color in Davidson County, claiming the effect to be exactly what the Legislature intended. 

The lawsuit also covers how Shelby County, much like Davidson County, is home to historically Black communities and that civil rights groups, again including several of the action’s Plaintiffs, testified to the Legislator that as a part of the redistricting, these communities should be kept whole. The testimonies would prove to be ignored once again by the state, with the population of the neighborhoods and communities split into different legislative districts, once again diluting their voting power. It’s because of this that the lawsuit claims that voters of color in SD-31 no longer have the power to elect the candidates of their choosing. 

While detailing exactly what the lawsuit is challenging, the document takes time to criticize the speed at which the redistricting maps were passed by both the state House and Senate committees. It cites that on January 20, the maps were introduced to the Senate floor, put to a vote, and passed in a little over an hour, arguably without much meaningful debate or discussion. Then again, on January 24, the same maps would be introduced to the House floor, voted on, and passed once again without delay. 

“These new maps go above and beyond to suppress the Black vote, and so we have been going above and beyond to mobilize the Black voters and we need your support,” says civil rights organization The Equity Alliance (TEA) in their public statement.

Those who wish to help TEA in their efforts can choose to donate on their website, theequityalliance.org/donate.