Civil rights groups file lawsuit over Tennessee’s redistricting maps


Several civil and voting rights groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Republican Gov. Bill Lee and other state officials over Tennessee’s congressional and state Senate maps, which they allege are discriminatory and violate the constitutional rights of voters of color.

The lawsuit alleges that the Republican-controlled state legislature particularly diluted the voting power of Black residents through redistricting around Memphis and Nashville. The groups are asking the court to prevent the “calling, holding, supervising, or certifying any further election in the challenged districts” as they are currently structured.

With the filing, Tennessee joins several states facing redistricting challenges ahead of the 2024 election, which will determine control of the narrowly split US House of Representatives.

“The maps approved by the Tennessee legislature intentionally erode the voices of communities of color in Tennessee,” Debby Gould, president of the League of Women Voters of Tennessee, said in a statement. The group is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Along with the League of Women Voters of Tennessee, the lawsuit was brought by Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, The Equity Alliance, Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute, African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee and five individuals.

The defendants listed in the lawsuit include Lee, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, the state’s election commission and seven members of the commission. CNN has reached out to Lee’s office. Hargett’s office directed CNN to the state attorney general’s office.

Brandon Smith, chief of staff to state Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, told CNN in an email that they had not yet been served with a complaint as of Thursday evening.

The lawsuit points to the former Democratic stronghold of Davidson County – which includes Nashville – being split into three separate congressional districts, a move the lawsuit claims “diluted the voting power” of the Black voting population and made the county more favorable to Republicans.

Under the congressional map, which was signed into law in February 2022, Democrats lost a favorable district while Republicans gained one. As a result, the state now only has one Democrat-leaning congressional district left while there are eight districts that favor Republicans, CNN previously reported.

The groups are also challenging the new state Senate map that splits Shelby County, which includes Memphis. The lawsuit says the plan nearly halved the Black and Hispanic population of a Senate district, preventing voters of color from having “an opportunity to elect their candidates of choice.”

The lawsuit alleges that the state’s legislature, which advanced both plans in January 2022, did not give “meaningful consideration” to public testimony and “was well aware that its proposed redistricting changes in Davidson and Shelby Counties would dilute the votes of and adversely impact Black voters and other voters of color in those counties.”

Other redistricting challenges are also playing out in Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, New York and Texas. These fights have sparked national attention as the outcomes could determine whether Republicans hold onto or expand their razor-thin majority in the US House of Representatives.

Late last month, Alabama’s GOP-majority legislature approved new maps after the US Supreme Court said that an existing map likely violated federal voting law by diluting the voting power of Black residents. A federal court is expected to hear a challenge from civil rights groups later this month.

CNN’s Janie Boschma, Renée Rigdon, Byron Manley, Ethan Cohen and Fredreka Schouten contributed to this report.

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