A Tennessee state court ruled that a Republican-drawn map for the state’s Senate seats violated the Tennessee Constitution. In coming to their Wednesday ruling, a panel of judges determined that lawmakers incorrectly numbered the legislative districts in Nashville and that the Tennessee legislature will need to re-number the Senate districts in accordance with the law.
The issue in question comes from state redistricting that took place in 2022. The Tennessee Constitution states that “a county having more than one senatorial district, the district shall be numbered consecutively.” However, Davidson County—which includes Nashville—failed to do so.
The importance of district numbering plays a crucial role in the staggered elections for the Senate. This places some districts on the ballot in the same years as the US presidential election, while other seats are placed on the ballot during the Tennessee gubernatorial elections.
In the lawsuit, originally filed in February 2022, people residing in the contested district brought an action against Governor Bill Lee, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Tennessee Coordinator of Election Mark Goins in a complaint that alleged racial gerrymandering that violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the US Constitution by dillouting the number of minority voters in Nashville and Davison County through redistricting tactics. After much back and forth, the state attorneys decided not to challenge the Senate map redistricting. Instead, they focused on arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring their claim in court.
Ultimately, the chancery court judges upheld the House map but ordered the Tennessee Senate to create a new map by January 31, 2024. In upholding the House map, the judges referred to a good faith effort by lawmakers based on the complexities in construing a “perfect map,” which may never be accomplished based on inherent conflicts.
“Even with this victory, we will not waiver. We will continue our fight for constitutional State House maps until the law has been followed and justice prevails,” said the Tennessee Democratic Party in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
The legislature will reconvene on January 9, when they may consider redrawing the Tennessee Senate district map.