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A New Legal Process Will Strip Power From Nashville Judges To Rule In State Constitutional Cases

The state legislature has approved a dramatically different approach to handling lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of Tennessee laws.

If approved by the governor, the move would strip power from judges in Davidson County, who have long handled such cases.

The new method, starting in July, would allow constitutional challenges to be filed anywhere in the state. When they are, the local judge will be joined by two other judges from Tennessee’s other grand divisions — as chosen by the state Supreme Court — to review the case.

The Tennessean reports the new legal approach was settled on through last-minute compromises Wednesday night.

Backers say this method more accurately reflects the views of all of Tennessee, as opposed to just one region.

But the bill, SB 868/HB 1130, has brought backlash from Democratic lawmakers, who see it as a partisan push to exercise control over the judicial process. They also accuse Republicans of making a major change in a hasty way.

“Judges aren’t the problem. They follow the law and precedent. Legislation is the problem,” says Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville. “So instead of creating a new court and hand-picking the judges to get a new outcome, let’s be more thoughtful with the legislation that we draft and pass.”

The creation of the new court comes after numerous attempts by the state to take authority from Nashville judges — including a campaign to remove Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle after she ordered the state to offer absentee ballots.

But backers say that the courts need tomore accurately represent the views of the entire state of Tennessee. 

“They are the ones who are the finders of fact. They set the facts for the case before they go up,” said Senator Mike Bell, R-Riceville.

The measure resurfaced in the final days of the legislature, after acquiring a budget of $2.4 million in the state budget. It nowheads to Lee’s desk for hisfinal approval, where it will likely be signed into action.

Copyright 2021 WPLN News

Kendall Crawford