Nov 2, 2023 - News

Metro leaders take victory lap after airport lawsuit win

Illustration of Nashville City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Metro leaders basked Wednesday in another legal victory over the state and expressed hope that a string of court rulings could signal a turning point in the city's relationship with the state.

Why it matters: In addition to regaining local control of the airport board, officials told Axios they hope the court dynamics deter Republican lawmakers from targeting Nashville in the future.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, a panel of judges threw out a new law granting Republican state leaders control over the Airport Authority's board of directors. As a result of the ruling, the locally appointed members, who had been removed from their posts over the summer, were restored.

  • Metro is 3-0 in rulings over state laws targeting Nashville.

What they're saying: Metro Councilmember Zulfat Suara called Tuesday's unanimous court ruling "incredible news."

  • "It's a great day for Nashville on a number of fronts," she says. "It shows our constituents we will always stand up and we will always represent them. That means standing up to the state if we have to."
  • "I hope it shows the state it is a waste of time and taxpayer money to go to court and defend things that are unconstitutional."
  • Wally Dietz, the city's legal director and architect of the aggressive strategy challenging four state laws, tells Axios he hopes the ruling leads to a "recalibration" by the state.

Also: Dietz adds that the early court rulings are meaningful because they uphold the "home rule" provision in the state constitution, which prevents the legislature from singling out a local government.

Of note: In all three legal victories so far, Metro's challenges were considered by a three-judge panel as part of a relatively new process for considering such lawsuits against the state.

  • Previously, the Davidson County Chancery Court oversaw these kinds of suits. But that changed after a Nashville judge in 2020 allowed voters to mail in their election ballots because of the pandemic.
  • Republican lawmakers responded by creating a new process where Nashville judges are joined by judges appointed from other parts of the state. In all three legal victories, Republican judges have joined Nashville judges to unanimously rule against the state.
  • "These victories are significant because they prove that even a supermajority legislature is bound by the constitution and balanced by the judicial branch," Metro Councilmember Sean Parker, a critic of the state laws, tells Axios.

Yes, but: The legal fight is not over.

  • A spokesperson for the Tennessee attorney general told Axios the state is considering its options. An appeal of the airport board lawsuit is widely expected.

Meanwhile: The battle over the law reducing the size of the council is ongoing.

  • An additional lawsuit over a new state law providing Republican leaders appointments to the Sports Authority board of directors is in its early stages.
  • Metro lost its 2022 challenge of Gov. Bill Lee's education voucher program in a lawsuit with similar legal arguments.

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