cooper council

Mayor John Cooper addresses the Metro Council in 2022.

The Metro Government is seeking to halt or delay a required halving of the Metro Council.

As expected, the city filed suit Monday in Davidson County Chancery Court, alleging that the new law, which caps metropolitan government legislative bodies at 20 members, illegally targets Nashville and is impossible to implement in time for elections later this year.

In the suit, Metro makes multiple arguments against the law, arguments that were also made by members of the Nashville delegation during debates at the state legislature. The city argues that the law violates the state constitution’s home rule amendment, which prohibits legislation targeting a single local government. While the law applies generally to metropolitan governments, the other two metro governments in the state already have legislative bodies with 20 or fewer members.

Additionally, Metro argues in the suit that the timeline prescribed by the bill is both impossible to comply with and illegal. It’s too late in the 2023 election cycle to implement new districts, according to Metro, as dozens of candidates are already running for office and qualifying petitions will be available later this month. The qualifying deadline is in May, and any new districts would require notification of voters. Metro officials are already working on a new map and informational meetings are scheduled later this week.

One provision in the new law would allow Metro Council elections to be delayed for a year if new lines could not be finalized in time for this year’s election. But Metro argues in its suit that extending current Metro councilmembers’ terms by a year and electing new members to three-year terms in 2024 would violate a constitutional requirement that local legislators serve four-year terms.

Republican supporters of the legislation deflected similar concerns during debate at the Capitol.

“If the General Assembly can unilaterally unwind an existing metropolitan government’s legislative body, the Home Rule Amendment’s constitutional requirement for local approval of a consolidated government charter becomes meaningless,” Metro argues in its suit. “In imposing these Council-reduction requirements on Metro Nashville just before a local election, the General Assembly undermines the purpose of local-government consolidation, ignores numerous other constitutional prohibitions on such a reduction, and creates confusion and chaos among citizens and candidates. The Court must issue an injunction to halt this unconstitutional legislative overreach.”

Metro attorneys have enlisted Bob Cooper and Michael Tackeff at Bass, Berry & Sims to assist with the litigation. Cooper is a former Metro legal director and Tennessee attorney general. The city is asking for a ruling that the law is unconstitutional and an injunction allowing the August Metro Council elections to proceed under the current maps.

Metro Legal is seeking an initial court hearing by the middle of next week at the latest.