Tennessee Nashville Metro Council Reduction Challenge (Metro Nashville)
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County v. Lee
Lawsuit filed by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (hereafter referred to as “Metro Nashville”) against Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R), Secretary of State Tre Hargett (R) and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins (R) challenging House Bill 48. Enacted in 2023, H.B. 48 requires the plaintiff to reduce the size of its Metro Council by at least half (from 40 members to 20 members) and to “adopt newly drawn Council districts for the upcoming August 3, 2023, election, all without voter approval.” Notably, Nashville is the most populous city in Tennessee. The plaintiff — which serves as Nashville’s consolidated city and county government — alleges that this law violates multiple provisions of the Tennessee Constitution, including Tennessee’s Home Rule Amendment; this amendment vests cities and local governments with the power to change their own charters (a document that outlines how a city is governed) via local referendum and, according to the plaintiff, limits the power of the General Assembly to “unilaterally alter local government structures.” In turn, the plaintiff alleges that H.B. 48’s restructuring of Nashville’s Metro Council “wages an unprecedented disenfranchisement of the voters of Metro Nashville who ratified the original compact with the State” and “undermines the purpose of local-government consolidation.” The plaintiff further argues that if “the General Assembly can unilaterally unwind an existing metropolitan government’s legislative body, the Home Rule Amendment’s constitutional requirement for local approval of a consolidated government charter becomes meaningless.” The plaintiff asserts that “[n]ot only does the Metro Council Reduction Act force Metro Nashville to restructure its legislative body, but it does so on a timeline that is impracticable, fails to provide time for sufficient community input and deliberation, and is sure to cause chaos in the election machinery, as well as confusion and distrust among voters.”
Finally, the plaintiff notes that under H.B. 48, if Nashville’s Metro Council is not reduced to 20 members by the next general metropolitan election set for Aug. 3, 2023, “then the terms of the current members of the metropolitan council [will be] extended for one (1) year and the county election commission shall set a special general metropolitan election to be held the first Thursday in August 2024 to elect the councilmembers for a term of three (3) years.” This requirement, the plaintiff contends, also violates the Tennessee Constitution and the Nashville Charter, which prescribe that council members serve four-year terms. The plaintiff requests that H.B. 48 be declared unconstitutional under the Tennessee Constitution and asks the court to prevent the defendants from implementing H.B. 48. This case was consolidated with Tucker v. Lee.
On April 10, the court granted in part Metro Nashville’s motion for a temporary injunction, thereby blocking the enforcement of section 1(b) of H.B. 48 as litigation proceeds. This means Nashville’s Metro Council will not have to reduce its size and redistrict by H.B. 48’s May 1 deadline.