There they were – assembled members of the Memphis Branch NAACP board – lined up at the chapter’s headquarters on Vance Avenue Tuesday (March 20) to issue a statement explaining the need for a lawsuit.
by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender
There they were – assembled members of the Memphis Branch NAACP board – lined up at the chapter’s fabled headquarters on Vance Avenue Tuesday (March 20) to issue a statement explaining the need for a lawsuit.
A 13-letter word, Redistricting, was the magnet that drew the board members together.
The local NAACP chapter, it was announced, had filed a legal challenge to the state’s new redistricting plan.
The gist of the lawsuit is this:
The current Senate Redistricting Plan, as adopted, violates Article II, Section 6 of the Tennessee Constitution by splitting counties more than is necessary – Therefore it fails to comply with the One-person, One-vote mandate derived from the Equal Protection Clause of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 – The citizens of Shelby County will be afforded less influence over local legislation affecting their County.
The NAACP’s suit supports an earlier action filed by District 92 State Rep. G.A. Hardaway and others challenging the new redistricting plan.
“The state designates that a county should not be split unnecessarily and that is what the present plan does,” said NAACP Defense Fund Committee Chairman Van Turner, who is also chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party.
“I think there is the component of race involved, but that is not the sole basis of the suit. Look at it from a purely logical viewpoint. We’re the largest city in the state and we’re losing representation. If anything, we need to keep the number of representatives we have, not fewer to represent more people. That’s non-partisan, non-racial, it’s really just about one man, one vote.”
As designed, Shelby County would lose one Senate and one House seat, both now held by Democrats. The Senate seat presently held by Jim Kyle has been moved to the newly created District 28, in Tipton County. Kyle’s former district is now part of District 30, which is held by Beverly Marrero, also a Democrat. It is in effect a lost seat that supports Democratic Party causes.
Hardaway is facing a similar type of situation. He would have to run against fellow Tennessee Black Caucus member Rep. Barbara Cooper to remain in the legislature, yielding the loss of a liberal democratic vote.
Turner acknowledges that it is customary for the winning party in an election cycle to redraw districts to its advantage whenever possible, but he rejects the sour-grapes assertion. And while he spoke in measured tones, Turner expresses a growing sentiment among the liberal political body here that there seems to be a growing consternation with each legislative session.
“Why is so much legislation being aimed at Memphis and only at Memphis? I think a lot more people are being affected by legislation than in past years and they are beginning to understand better how decisions made in Nashville affect us here and whenever we lose a voice it can directly affect us economically,” said Turner.
“Like in the battle over the schools. The schools are the second largest employer in the state, and if we lose representation it can affect jobs.”
It was noted at this week’s press conference that the Tennessee Black Caucus crafted a redistricting plan that would affect five counties, as opposed to the eight under the Republican-drawn plan. Turner said the court must also consider the constitutional requirement that alternative plans should be considered that preserve districts with minority populations, so-called “majority minority” districts. Hardaway’s suit notes the requirement as a point of opposition.
Attempts to reach local Republican Party Chairman Justin Joy were not successful by TSD press time. Proponents of the new redistricting maintain that the new district was needed because population growth patterns show a growing move to the center of the state and away from Shelby County.