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Political Litigation

Civil Rights Organizations Say Tennessee Voting Districts Are Heavily Gerrymandered

— August 11, 2023

Civil rights advocates claim that Tennessee’s Republican-dominated state legislature intentionally fragmented Nashville-area voting districts to preserve their supermajority.

A coalition of civil rights advocates have filed a lawsuit challenging a Tennessee redistricting law that divided left-leaning Nashville to protect Republican interests.

According to The Associated Press, the complaint was filed earlier this week in a Nashville federal court.

In their complaint, the defendant organizations—which include the N.A.A.C.P., the African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee, and the League of Women Voters of Tennessee—say that U.S. House and state Senate maps are heavily and unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

The maps, attorneys say, effectively fragment Nashville into three Republican-dominated districts, all of which have boundaries extending far beyond the city’s limits into more rural counties.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs claim that redistricting was decided through an “opaque, inadequate, and rushed process designed to forestall public scrutiny, limit backlash, and stifle any meaningful debate or dissent.”

The Associated Press notes that, after the redistricting was enacted, Volunteer State conservatives easily dominated elections in what had earlier been competitive districts.

“The Tennessee Legislature split Nashville into three districts and splintered my neighborhoods,” said former Tennessee state Sen. Brenda Gilmore, who lost her seat after redistricting. “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.”

Nashville skyline at dawn; image by Brandon Jean, via
Nashville skyline at dawn; image by Brandon Jean, via

The lawsuit reiterates many of Gilmore’s concerns, alleging that Republican lawmakers prioritized race when carving out new districts around Nashville.

“[The redistricting] destroyed a previously functioning crossover district […] that had reliably elected voters of color’s candidates of choice for nearly two decades,” the lawsuit states. “It also subordinated traditional redistricting — such as core retention, maintaining communities of interest and political subdivisions whole, and compactness — to race.”

Carrie Archie Russell, a lecturer at Vanderbilt University, told The Washington Post that the contours of Tennessee’s legislature—wherein Republicans hold an overwhelming advantage—has likely engendered gerrymandering.

“When you have a supermajority, there is no incentive to cooperate or to negotiate with the other side. You don’t have to … and in situations like that, our best hope to protect [the] civil rights and liberties of citizens is the court system to exercise its ability to check the state legislature,” Russell told the Post.

Republican leaders have already defended the new legislative maps, saying that they were redrawn to reflect growth in and around Nashville.

“The maps approved by the General Assembly were carefully considered fair and legal maps,” said Adam Kleinheider, a spokesperson for Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally. “Lt. Gov. McNally is confident the court will agree.”


Lawsuit accuses Tennessee of ‘racially discriminatory’ redistricting

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

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