Tennessee lawmakers have spent much of the legislative session debating the state court system and constitutional challenges to the laws they pass.
One effort — to create a new solicitor general to work on behalf of the legislature — was delayed Tuesday when the bill’s sponsor agreed to push it back until 2022.
The goal, Republican Sen. Paul Bailey said, was to give the legislative branch of state government permanent legal counsel. He said that having a solicitor general housed within the legislative branch would eliminate legal conflicts between the legislative and executive branches.
For example, Bailey said, legislative leaders have been frustrated in recent years when the attorney general — appointed by the Supreme Court — refused to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement, leading the legislature to hire outside counsel. Additionally, Bailey said, legislative leaders questioned the legal authority of the executive branch to remove the honorary bust of slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Capitol.
In agreeing to delay consideration of the measure until 2022, Bailey said he is in negotiations with the attorney general’s office about some of the legislature’s “concerns.”
After lawsuits from Tennessee cities challenging laws passed by the state legislature, Republicans in the supermajority are now also moving to strip cities of some of those powers. A bill currently scheduled to be heard by the Senate next week would give the state government the ability to immediately appeal a challenge from a local government, leaving the challenged law in effect until final resolution is reached.
The move follows local governments’ successful attempt to delay implementation of Lee’s school voucher plan. The Senate version of the bill would also prevent local governments from using taxpayer dollars to challenge state laws.
Another Republican effort would create an entirely new court, a statewide chancery court that would have jurisdiction over constitutional challenges. Initially, the governor would select three chancellors, one from each so-called Grand Division of the state. Then, starting in 2022, the three positions would be elected statewide, joining just the governor and two U.S. senators as officials elected statewide in Tennessee.
That effort moved forward Tuesday, as the Senate Judiciary Committee gave it a positive recommendation and sent it to the Finance Committee. The House Civil Justice Committee is scheduled to consider it on Wednesday.