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Judges deal a major blow to Tennessee GOP as lawmaker is reinstated

Judges have halted Tennessee Republicans' plan to cut the size of Nashville's city council in half, quashing their effort to exert power over the liberal city.


UPDATE (April 12, 2023, 2:52 p.m. ET): The Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted on Wednesday to reinstate Justin J. Pearson to the Tennessee Legislature.

Justin Jones, one of the two Black lawmakers in Tennessee expelled for protesting gun violence on the state House floor, was reinstated Monday, dealing an embarrassing blow to the Republicans who pushed him out of the Legislature. 

On Wednesday, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on whether to reinstate Justin Pearson, the other expelled Democratic lawmaker. 

But Jones’ reinstatement wasn’t the only loss Tennessee Republicans have taken in their efforts to exert anti-democratic power. 

On Monday, a panel of judges halted an effort by the Tennessee GOP — including Gov. Bill Lee — to cut the size of Nashville’s city council from 40 members to 20. Nashville is a largely liberal city with a fairly diverse council. (You can read a bit more about the Tennessee Republicans’ effort in this ReidOut Blog post from over the weekend.)

As The Associated Press notes, “A quarter of Nashville’s council seats are held by Black members, half by women and five members who identify as LGBTQ+.”

Here’s how AP describes Monday’s ruling:

The Democratic-leaning city of Nashville’s Metropolitan Council will get to keep all 40 of its seats for now, under a temporary decision issued Monday by three state judges. The ruling stymies an effort by state Republican lawmakers to cut the council in half after it blocked the 2024 Republican National Convention from coming to the Music City.

Before Monday’s ruling, several Democrats had highlighted the fact that the plan would severely diminish Black representation on the council, and they denounced the effort to silence voters’ voices. The GOP’s rationale — that the council was simply too large — never made sense on its face. And the excuses from some Tennessee Republicans were truly deranged — including from state Sen. Adam Lowe, who tried to offer a biblical reason.

“​​Conventional wisdom for the past four decades has been that smaller group sizes tend to make better decisions, and this is the largest council that we see,” Lowe said, per AP. He added: “There’s a reason why we’re judged by 12 of our peers in a jury, and there’s a reason, I think, why Christ walked with 12 of his disciples.” 

It’s an explanation that might have worked for Lowe at his church, but the court of law is a different story, clearly. 

Look for Tennessee Republicans to appeal the judges’ decision, or even devise new ways to subvert the will of voters. As the saying goes: There’s no rest for the wicked.