In the last moments of Metro Council’s debate over the second reading of the now withdrawn sanctuary city ordinance before the June 20 vote, Nashville Council Member-at-Large Erica Gilmore, tried to assert non-existent local authority over illegal immigration, claiming “[w]e make the laws. We decide whether something is legal or not.”
When the vote was held later that evening, Gilmore was among the 25 members of Metro Council who voted yes. Only 8 members of the Metro Council voted no.
Had it not been for a vast grassroots uprising, an unfavorable legal opinion from Metro Legal Director, and a letter signed by more than 63 members of the Tennessee House of Representatives telling the Metro Council the Tennessee General Assembly would not let such an ordinance stand, the ordinance may have passed on a third reading. But the ordinances sponsors, Council Members Bob Mendes and Colby Sledge permanently withdrew the ordinance in light of the public backlash, and it never came to a vote on a third and final reading.
But on the evening of June 20, Gilmore let her constituents know exactly where she stands on the issue.
“I’m concerned when we have to talk about what’s American, and who’s American and how we create laws, and how we determine under those laws who can be part of the society,” Gilmore said.
“We make the laws. We decide whether something is legal or not, and I think that it gets really dicey when we talk about how others are illegal and I think that other council members have articulated it well,” Gilmore continued. (emphasis added)
“As someone else alluded to, put in internment camps. Some horrible things have happened and many people made the laws, that either segregation was acceptable or not. Those people made the laws, and to argue and say something is illegal, you have to find it within yourself morally, you have to decide where you’re going to be on the issue. There is no playing around it. We make the laws, that’s not up for discussion,” she asserted. (emphasis added)
“We in the city of Nashville, we owe other people the same dignity whatever way we came here, woman, man, black, white, gay, Jewish, we all came here by some way, you didn’t just come here and were automatically a citizen,” she claimed.
You can see Gilmore’s complete speech that evening on this video, beginning at the 2:36:39 mark:
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress to “establish a uniform rule of naturalization.” That means that Congress, not the Metro Nashville Council, decides who is legally admitted to the U.S., who is eligible to become a citizen and the terms upon which someone can become an American citizen.
Tennessee’s anti-sanctuary city law prohibited the Metro Council from passing a local law to shield illegal aliens who commit crimes.
Ironically, Gilmore’s mother, Brenda Gilmore during her last year as a Metro Council member, introduced a resolution opposing illegal immigration. Her resolution supported the sheriff’s partnership with federal immigration authorities and specifically, called on Congress and the state legislature to “take whatever action is necessary to control the problem of illegal immigration.”
In 2007, Brenda Gilmore moved seamlessly from the Metro Council to the Tennessee General Assembly where she continues to represent District 54 in the House. She is planning to run for Sen. Thelma Harper’s seat in 2018.
The proposed sanctuary city ordinance is not the first time the Metro Nashville Council attempted to overstep its local authority, only to be overruled by the state’s General Assembly. In 2011, the Metro Council tried to expand the state’s anti-discrimination law, with an ordinance requiring contractors with the city to accept Metro’s anti-gay bias policies. The state legislature responded by passing a bill that nullified the Metro ordinance.
Rep. Brenda Gilmore voted “no” saying the bill interfered with Metro’s right to govern itself.
More recently, the Tennessee General Assembly voted to repeal Metro’s ordinance decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Rep. Brenda Gilmore voted against this bill as well.
The Nashville-Davidson County consolidated government, is not a sovereign entity. It is a product of the General Assembly’s constitutional authority:
The General Assembly shall by general law provide the exclusive methods by which municipalities may be created, merged, consolidated and dissolved and by which municipal boundaries may be altered.
Though the 25 members of the Metro Council who voted yes in favor of the sanctuary city ordinance on June 20, including Council Member Gilmore, may believe that the Metro Davidson County/Nashville government is sovereign and superior to both the state of Tennessee and the United States of America, many of their constituents do not share that sentiment.
Indeed, as a recent Tennessee Star Poll showed, likely voters in Davidson County/Nashville are equally split over the now withdrawn sanctuary city ordinance.
A crosstab analysis of those results showed that at least ten current members of the Metro Council who voted in favor of that ordinance may be in re-election jeopardy in 2019, as many of their constituents oppose the ordinance.