NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee is going through its first court docket problem over a congressional redistricting map that carved up Democratic-leaning Nashville to assist Republicans flip a seat in final yr’s elections, a transfer that the plaintiffs say has unconstitutionally diluted the ability of Black voters and different communities of coloration.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court docket in Nashville says the U.S. Home maps and people for the state Senate quantity to unconstitutional racial gerrymandering underneath the 14th and fifteenth amendments. The plaintiffs embody the Tennessee State Convention of the NAACP, the African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee, the Fairness Alliance, the League of Ladies Voters of Tennessee and several other Tennessee voters, together with former state Sen. Brenda Gilmore.

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

With the brand new traces in play, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville declined to hunt reelection, saying he couldn’t win any of the three new seats drawn to separate town throughout the once-a-decade redistricting course of. The Republican benefit held true, as Rep. John Rose received reelection by about 33 proportion factors, Rep. Mark Inexperienced received one other time period by 22 factors, and Rep. Andy Ogles received his first time period by 13 factors within the district vacated by Cooper.

The technique shifted Tennessee to eight Republicans within the U.S. Home, with only one Democrat left in Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen.

“The Tennessee Legislature split Nashville into three districts and splintered my neighborhoods,” stated Gilmore, a former Democratic state senator who’s 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.”

Moreover, the lawsuit challenges state Senate District 31 in majority-Black Shelby County, together with a part of Memphis. It is represented by Republican Sen. Brent Taylor.

The brand new lawsuit in Tennessee comes because the U.S. Supreme Court docket has agreed to take up a redistricting problem over South Carolina’s congressional traces equally on 14th and fifteenth modification claims. In that case, a panel of federal judges beforehand dominated {that a} congressional district there was deliberately redrawn to separate Black neighborhoods to dilute their voting energy.

“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, partially, stated they have been pushed by political pursuits, not race, in drawing their maps.

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