A group of civil rights and voting rights organizations last Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee and several top election officials over the state's congressional and state Senate maps, arguing that the boundaries are unconstitutional and violate the rights of minority voters.
The suit alleges that the maps, drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature, sought to dilute the voting strength of Black citizens with lines around Memphis and Nashville, the state's biggest and most diverse population centers.
The groups have requested the US District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to stop the "calling, holding, supervising, or certifying any further election in the challenged districts" in their current configurations.
With the filing in place, Tennessee joins states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, where lawsuits are challenging lines drawn after the 2020 census. The resolutions of the cases could play a significant role in which party controls Congress after the 2024 elections, as the GOP currently has a slim 222-212 House majority.
Debby Gould, the president of the League of Women Voters of Tennessee, said in a statement that the existing maps drown out of the voices of minority communities in the state.
"The maps approved by the Tennessee legislature intentionally erode the voices of communities of color in Tennessee," she said. "Tennesseans want their counties and their cities kept whole, but mapmakers ignored their interests, creating unfair districts that split communities and dilute their power. Tennessee district maps must preserve the ability for voters to express their shared interests and elect the political representation of their choice."
The League of Women Voters of Tennessee is a plaintiff in the suit, along with the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, The Equity Alliance, Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute, the African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee, and five citizens.
At the heart of the matter is the creation of three Republican-leaning congressional districts that include parts of Democratic-heavy Davidson County but which all elected GOP members of Congress. Each district — the 5th, 6th, and 7th Congressional Districts — contains a swath of suburban, exurban, and rural communities which overpowered the vote in Davidson County.
The plaintiffs in the suit criticize the three aforementioned districts as "unconstitutional racial gerrymanders."
The GOP redistricting map eliminated the Democratic-leaning congressional district of veteran lawmaker Jim Cooper, who chose not to run for reelection in any of the conservative districts that the legislature created last year.
As a result, there is now only one Democratic House member representing Tennessee: Steve Cohen of Memphis.
The suit also challenges the new state Senate map, which divides Shelby County, the region that includes Memphis.
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