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Nashville, TN (August 9, 2023) — The Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, the African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee, the Equity Alliance, the Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of Tennessee and several individual Tennessee voters filed a federal lawsuit challenging portions of Tennessee’s congressional and state senate redistricting plans that went into effect in early 2022 as intentionally discriminatory against Black voters and other voters of color. The plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, pro bono counsel Winston & Strawn, and local counsel Sperling & Slater.  

The complaint alleges the plans amount to unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, violating the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit argues the legislature intentionally diluted the votes of Black voters and other voters of color by breaking up Nashville/Davidson County into three congressional districts, while also disempowering the growing community of Black and brown voters in and around the Memphis area by splitting state senate district 31.

The lawsuit also details a lack of transparency and diversity of thought in Tennessee’s redistricting process, which ultimately led to the passage of discriminatory voting maps that dilute the political power of the state’s Black communities and other communities of color. If the 2021 maps are allowed to remain in place, plaintiffs argue, Black voters and other voters of color will not be able to elect their candidates of choice, as their votes will continue to be diluted due to selective redistricting.

Click here to view the full complaint.

“Tennessee’s redistricting plan greatly harms African-American voters. The plan uses a perverse approach to gerrymandering, seemingly motivated by race, that undermines the equal protection of African-Americans and dilutes the African-American vote. There is no constitutional justification for supporting the state legislature’s senate and congressional redistricting plan. Allowing these plans to survive will establish a dangerous precedent,” said Gloria Sweet-Love, President of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP.

“The maps approved by the Tennessee legislature intentionally erode the voices of communities of color in Tennessee. As a nonpartisan organization, the League of Women Voters of Tennessee fights to make sure all voters have the opportunity to be heard. 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,” said Debby Gould, President of the League of Women Voters of Tennessee.

“When redistricting lines are intentionally manipulated to silence the voice of the people–especially Black voters who have long faced efforts to limit their influence in the political process–those responsible must be called out and held accountable. These maps drawn by the Tennessee legislature represent nothing less than an effort to dilute the voting power of Black voters and other voters of color. Indefensibly, the maps splintered historic Black communities in Nashville that had been contained in a single congressional district for decades. It also sliced up the increasingly diverse community of Cordova in the Memphis area, just as voters of color were on the cusp of being able elect their state senator of choice. That is not just bad politics; it’s anti-democratic. Our democracy depends on empowering our diverse citizenry, not on silencing some and denying their constitutional rights.” said Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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“Tennessee’s extreme gerrymanders seek to blunt the political power of fast-growing communities of color by carving them up and diminishing their ability to elect their preferred candidates to the United States Congress, and the Tennessee Senate,” said Mitchell Brown, Senior Counsel for Voting Rights at SCSJ. “This intentional discrimination and racial gerrymandering against voters of color is in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution and cannot be allowed to stand.”

“The continued robustness of our democracy depends on our keeping clear the channels of political change and ensuring that all people—no matter the color of their skin—have the right to be heard at the ballot box and in the public square.  We are grateful to have the opportunity to partner with The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Southern Coalition for Social Justice on this incredibly important lawsuit,” said George Mastoris Partner at Winston & Strawn LLP

“We are proud to represent such an inspiring group of individual and organizational plaintiffs, who have come forward to ensure that all Tennesseans may fully and freely exercise one of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights. The rights of many are often protected by the actions of a few. So it is a privilege and honor to represent these plaintiffs and be entrusted with their voice in our legal system.  As a Nashvillian myself, this case has personal significance for me and my family, which makes me all the more thankful for these plaintiffs’ willingness to fight for all who have been stripped of their fundamental voting rights,” said Phillip Cramer on behalf of Sperling & Slater, LLC.

“Our vote is our power, and any attempts to dilute our power will be met with fierce resistance and a day in court. The blatant racial gerrymandering of both the senate and congressional maps in Tennessee is a direct threat to the Black community and other communities of color. The right to vote is sacred, and we must defend it at all costs.” said Janette McCarthy-Wallace, General Counsel, NAACP.

“The complaint filed today makes it plain — legislators in Tennessee have drawn the state’s congressional and state senate maps to intentionally limit the political power of Black voters and other voters of color, which is completely unacceptable,” said Celina Stewart, chief counsel and senior director of advocacy and litigation at the League of Women Voters of the US. “The League will not waver when state legislatures prioritize their own interests over those of their constituents and we will fight for voters who are targeted by unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.”

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“We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, both of which have influence. We intend to exert our influence, and if the courts must be our streets and our bridges, then let us march on until victory is won,” said Rev. Jason Lawrence Turner, African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee

“We are deeply disappointed by the Tennessee Legislature’s approval of gerrymandered maps, a clear example of how partisan interests can be weaponized to disenfranchise Black and Brown communities. Gerrymandering perpetuates a system that consolidates power for a few while deliberately marginalizing minority voices. At The Equity Alliance, we stand firmly against this injustice. We are proud to join hands with other organizations and allies in a lawsuit challenging this redistricting, advocating for a more equitable and just democratic process that ensures every voice, especially those historically oppressed, is heard and valued, ” said Tequila M. Johnson, Executive Director of The Equity Alliance, “Together, we will work relentlessly to dismantle these systemic barriers and create a future where true representation and equity thrive.”

Individual Plaintiffs:

“The redistricting plan adopted by the state legislature in 2022 was an assault on democracy and the civil rights of Nashville voters. For as long as I remember, Nashville and Davidson County always had its own congressional district and it is a community of interest with its own unique needs. As the former state senator who represented District 19 and the former state house of representative who represented District 54 both in Nashville, I worked with a predominantly urban constituency. The new redistricting plan split Nashville into three districts splintering those communities and preventing them from coming together to elect their candidate of choice. Simply put, the redistricting plan undermines the voices of African American voters and other voters of color in Tennessee’s fastest growing and most economically thriving city,” said Brenda Gilmore, a resident of and registered voter in Nashville, and an individual Plaintiff in the case.

“It’s hard enough trying to convince people that their votes matter in elections. When the Tennessee Legislature made the decision to redraw district lines in Davidson County as a way to diminish the voices of the people in my community, I felt that it would make it even more challenging to convince people that their votes matter. I joined this lawsuit because Nashville deserves to have true representation in Congress. Right now we have no meaningful representation in Congress and nor can we expect that we will at least in the near future. Our voices deserve to be heard loud and clear when it comes to decisions that significantly impact our daily lives,” said Ophelia Doe, resident of and registered voter in Nashville and an Individual Plaintiff in the case.

“Today after living in Congressional District 5 for over forty years, being represented by those who understand what life, liberty and the pursuit of justice look like for communities of color, I find myself redistricted out of District 5 into District 7, where my vote is diminished. Tennessee’s redistricted maps are reprehensible and are racially motivated to deprive me of my electoral opportunity and to dilute my political power. Without my vote and my political power, I have no voice on the political issues that matter to me,” said Judy D. Cummings, resident of and registered voter in Nashville and Individual Plaintiff in the case.

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“Tennessee stands at a crossroads, harboring some of the harshest and most restrictive voting rights regimes in the nation. In our great State, it is the very lawmakers entrusted with safeguarding our democratic values who are responsible for passing both our congressional and state legislative districts. In the 2021 redistricting cycle, the legislature diluted the votes of Black and brown voters in SD-31 who almost came close to electing their candidate last decade in 2018. The new plan cracks apart communities of interest with a focus on the Cordova community. In sum, this makes it difficult for me as a voter and others like me to elect someone who represents our community’s interests,” said Ruby Powell-Dennis, a resident of and registered voter in Cordova and an Individual Plaintiff in the case.

“Before the 2021 redistricting plans were passed, Nashville and Davidson County were kept whole in one district. I’ve lived in Nashville for more than twenty years. I also serve on the school board, and I understand the importance of representation. Nashville has unique interests – the residents here have interests that are specific to living in an urban area including concerns ranging from the funding to public education, to the proliferation of gun violence, to the desperate need for affordable housing, to the need for accessible, affordable healthcare, to the welfare of senior citizens, among many others. By carving Nashville into three different districts that bring in rural communities from the north and the south that have unique interests of their own, the redistricting plan dilutes my vote, the votes of African American voters, and other voters of color in Nashville so that we will not be able to elect our candidate of choice in the near future,” said Freda Player, resident of and registered voter in Nashville and Individual Plaintiff in the case.

Media Contacts:
Melissa Boughton, melissa@scsj.org, 830-481-6901
Lacy Crawford, lcrawford@lawyerscommittee.org, 252-292-6088

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Felecia Phillips Ollie DD (h.c.) is the inspiring leader and founder of The Equality Network LLC (TEN). With a background in coaching, travel, and a career in news, Felecia brings a unique perspective to promoting diversity and inclusion. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in English/Communications, she is passionate about creating a more inclusive future. From graduating from Mississippi Valley State University to leading initiatives like the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, Felecia is dedicated to making a positive impact. Join her journey on our blog as she shares insights and leads the charge for equity through The Equality Network.

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