The Tennessee Supreme Court last week denied the Davidson County Election Commission’s request that the high court “reach down” and consider on an expedited basis the body’s appeal of a trial court’s ruling that an anti-tax Metro Charter revision effort cannot go before Nashville voters.
A divided election commission sought to set the referendum for later this month after the group 4 Good Government turned in thousands of petition signatures earlier this year. But Metro and allied outside groups sued the election commission, resulting in the court’s decision that the referendum could not be held, in part because the group suggested two dates for the referendum rather than one.
Legal and government experts also argued that the referendum was unconstitutional from the start because it would strip some taxing authority from the Metro Council, taxing powers granted to local governing bodies by the state constitution.
Jim Roberts, the attorney behind 4 Good Government, said he was not surprised that the Supreme Court decided not to take up the case. Instead, Roberts said, he expects the Court of Appeals to grant an expedited timeline for the DCEC appeal. 4 Good Government initially sought to intervene in the lawsuit, but DCEC representatives told him not to, leaving the city footing the legal bill on both sides of the case.
“It is clear Metro’s strategy is to stall and delay at every opportunity in hopes the citizens will lose faith and give up,” Roberts said. “Nashville hasn’t seen this level of voter suppression since the 1960s.”
Jim Blumstein, a Vanderbilt University law professor who is representing the election commission at an hourly rate of $800, said he too was unsurprised by the decision.
“It’s complicated and has a lot of moving parts,” he said. “The timing was very, very, very tight, so I think this is understandable and the case will be briefed in the Court of Appeals.”
During a recent election commission meeting, Blumstein acknowledged that he had consulted with Roberts, a former student of his, on the drafting of the referendum.
Mayor John Cooper, who has opposed the referendum, cheered the high court’s decision.
“This is another loss in a losing effort,” Cooper spokesperson Andrea Fanta said. “It’s time to stop this unconstitutional attempt to destabilize Nashville’s finances.”