Tennessee Supreme Court Vacates Injunction On Reappointment Plan For State Senatorial Districts

April 13, 2022

In an opinion released today, the Tennessee Supreme Court vacated an injunction issued by a three-judge panel that prevented the enforcement of the reapportionment plan enacted by the Tennessee General Assembly for state senatorial districts.

Following the 2020 census, the General Assembly reapportioned the districts for the Senate as required by article II, section 4 of the Tennessee Constitution. In February 2022, the plaintiffs, who are three registered voters, filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the constitutionality of the reapportionment plan. The plaintiffs argued that the reapportionment plan violates article II, section 3 of the Tennessee Constitution because it fails to consecutively number the four Senatorial districts included in Davidson County. A three-judge panel was appointed to hear the case.

On April 6, 2022, the panel granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary injunction preventing defendants from enforcing or giving any effect to the boundaries of the Senatorial districts. The panel provided the General Assembly fifteen days to remedy the defect and stated that, if the defect was not remedied, the panel would impose an interim plan for the 2022 election. The panel extended the April 7, 2022 noon filing deadline for Senatorial candidates until May 5, 2022 at noon.

On April 7, 2022, the defendants filed an application for extraordinary appeal in the Court of Appeals seeking review of the injunction. The Tennessee Supreme Court, on its own motion, entered an order in which it determined that the application raised issues of compelling public interest and assumed jurisdiction over the case. The Court granted the extraordinary appeal. Upon review, the majority of the Supreme Court concluded that the panel erred in granting the temporary injunction because it failed to adequately consider the harm the injunction will have on the election officials who are detrimentally impacted by the extension and also failed to adequately consider the public interest in ensuring orderly elections and avoiding voter confusion. Therefore, the Court vacated the injunction and remanded the case to the panel. The Court set a new filing deadline for Senatorial candidates of 4:00 p.m. prevailing time on Thursday, April 14, 2022.

Justice Sharon G. Lee dissented. In her view, the Court substituted its judgment for that of the three-judge panel rather than applying the correct standard of review for discretionary decisions. Under that standard of review, the panel’s decision should be affirmed if the panel applied the correct legal principles, reached a reasonable decision, and based its decision on a proper assessment of the evidence. Based on the evidence, the three-judge panel enjoined the facially unconstitutional Senate plan and extended the candidate qualifying deadline only as necessary and with minimal disruption to state and local election officials. According to the dissent, the three-judge panel did not err.  

To read the majority opinion in Akilah Moore, et al. v. William Lee, et al., authored by Chief Justice Roger A. Page, and the separate opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, visit the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.