Three Commissioners Sue to Force Redistricting Issue Into Chancery


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The fat, as they say, is in the fire. Three members of the Shelby County Commission have filed suit in Chancery Court to force a resolution of the current impasse on a redistricting plan for the Commission.

Plaintiffs in the suit filed Tuesday are Commissioners Terry Roland, Mike Ritz, and Walter Bailey. Defendants, technically, are the Commission itself and the State of Tennessee. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the current districting plan violates both the state and federal constitutions and seeks “an Order requiring Defendants to immediately conference and expeditiously accomplish a new redistricting plan that complies with the equal protection principle of ‘one person-one vote.’”

Just before Christmas, the Commission found itself hopelessly divided on competing redistricting plans, with seven members committed to a revamped version of the current plan which has four three-member districts and one single-member district. Five other commissioners, including the plaintiffs, are adamantly opposed to such a plan, preferring either a system of 13 single-member districts or one involving six two-member districts and one single-member one.

A 13th commissioner, James Harvey, has been out of town on business and has not signaled his wishes.
The matter of redistricting could come up Wednesday as the Commission holds its regular bi-weekly committee meetings, but it is not on the committee agenda per se.

Almost certainly, there will be discussion of the redistricting issue, however — whether formally or informally.

The current stalemate, which found the Commission missing its reapportionment deadline of December 31, is the result of several cross purposes, some of them perhaps personal, others reflecting philosophical disagreement. What is interesting is that the differences cross racial, political, and geographical lines, with blacks, whites, Republicans, Democrats, city residents, and county residents on both sides of the dispute.

As an example, the groups of plaintiffs includes two white Republicans, Roland and Ritz, and one African-American Democrat, Bailey, whose firm prepared the suit. Roland represents an outer-county district at present, while Ritz represents one that straddles city and county, and Bailey represents an inner-city district.


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