Jan 24, 2022 - Politics

Redistricting legal challenges likely

The Tennessee state capitol building.

The Tennessee state Capitol building. Photo: David Underwood/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A legal challenge could be the last resort for Democrats and activists who want to stop redistricting that would split Nashville among three congressional districts.

  • The new map is expected to secure full approval from the General Assembly as soon as this week.

Why it matters: The highly anticipated legal challenge could be the final say for a decade on the city's representation in Congress.

  • Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper faces likely defeat under the new congressional district lines and hasn't ruled out retirement. His campaign spokesperson told Axios last week that Cooper is exploring every possible way to "prevent the gerrymandering of Nashville."
  • Likely Republican challengers are waiting for lawsuits to play out before determining whether to run.

What they're saying: "Undoubtedly, we'll end up in court where their actions have been struck down time and again," Tennessee Democratic Party chairperson Hendrell Remus tells Axios.

  • "What Republican legislators fail to realize is that these maps don't just impact elections, they impact the vitality of our communities and the lives of real people."

The other side: Republican leadership is adamant their maps would hold up in court.

Between the lines: Democrats have raised several issues that could animate legal challenges, chief among them the allegation that the new maps intentionally split up minority communities in an effort to diminish their electoral impact.

  • While attention is centered on the congressional map, challenges to the state House and Senate maps are also possible.

What to watch: Challenges could launch in state or federal court. But Nashville attorney Ben Gastel tells Axios a state challenge would be a tougher path.

  • Some states, such as Ohio, have constitutions that include stricter limits on the redistricting process that can support successful challenges. Tennessee's constitution is generally less restrictive.
  • "I would say that your best path forward in the state of Tennessee is a federal challenge," Gastel says.

Yes, but: Outcomes often rely on how a specific judge interprets the law and the intricacies of a redistricting plan. It could be a steep challenge.

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