One year after Tennessee filed suit in federal court challenging the commandeering of state revenue by the federal government to fund its refugee resettlement program, Judge Stanley Thomas Anderson, ignored plaintiffs’ request for a hearing and dismissed the case. The court’s decision did not reach the substantive Tenth Amendment issue ruling instead that the state lacked legal standing to sue.
Anderson was appointed to the court by George W. Bush in 2008 and became Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee in 2017.
GOP Gubernatorial Diane Black and State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, a named plaintiff in the suit have said unequivocally that Tennessee should appeal the court’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a non-profit public interest law firm filed the lawsuit on behalf of Tennessee and the legislature at no cost to the state or taxpayers. Mr. Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the TMLC has already indicated that the court’s decision “is filled with appealable issues” and that his firm is prepared to continue its representation pro bono and appeal the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary:
The Thomas More Law Center will continue to represent the General Assembly and the state without charge and will continue to pay for the expenses associated with the lawsuit throughout the appellate process, including the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, because the fundamental issue involves state sovereignty, it was always our assumption that this case would not be determined by the decision of one federal district court judge; that the case would continue up to the Supreme Court. And we were then, and still are committed to represent the General Assembly and state throughout the appellate process—including the US Supreme Court.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Diane Black who has voiced strong support for President Trump’s actions on immigration is urging the state to continue pushing back against the federal government’s overreach:
I strongly support appealing the Court’s erroneous decision. This is an issue of state’s rights and Tennessee has every right to control what, if any, refugees are allowed in our state and to be adequately compensated. As Governor, I will go even further. The last two governors have outsourced refugee resettlement. I believe it’s time for the state to take back that responsibility.
Passed by an overwhelming majority vote in 2016, the Tennessee General Assembly’s joint resolution SJR467, authorized a lawsuit to stop the federal government from commandeering state funds to pay for the refugee resettlement program in violation of the Tenth Amendment.
A similar action was taken by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014, which passed a simple resolution directing that a lawsuit be filed challenging Obamacare. The federal judge in that case ruled that “the House has standing to pursue those constitutional claims.”
And in a 2015 case filed by the Arizona state legislature, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the legislative body had standing to sue on a constitutional issue to assert certain claims related to its function as a representative institution.
After the Tennessee joint resolution was passed, former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (Speaker of the Senate) and House Speaker Beth Harwell appointed two members from each chamber to implement the resolution.
State Senators Mark Norris and John Stevens represent the State Senate, and Reps. Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver and William Lamberth represent the Tennessee House. The TMLC has been working with these four legislators and continues to advise them with regard to the “many appealable issues.”
Prior to the suit being filed last year, Rep. Lamberth issued the following statement:
I look forward to working with the Thomas More Law Center as we pursue a Judicial remedy to this issue that will ensure the safety and security of all Tennesseans.
Rep. Terry Lynn Weaver and Sen. John Stevens chose to serve as the named plaintiffs representing the Tennessee General Assembly and the State of Tennessee. Stevens issued a statement suggesting his reason to support the lawsuit:
The Constitution does not allow the Federal Government to force me as the elected representative of the 24th Senate District to implement federal programs while they sit in Washington insulated from the consequences.
Faced with pursuing an appeal, Rep. Weaver is adamant that an appeal must occur:
Before we even began this journey we all agreed we are in this for the long haul, even if we must fight it out all the way to the Supreme Court. The General Assembly has standing. We stand our ground by the ruling of the Sebelius case. Tennessee will not be coerced to pay for a federal law that the state has no input or say into the issue. Tennessee is acting on our Tenth Amendment principles that states are sovereign according to our U.S. Constitution and we are asking either we are sovereign or we are not. I believe, as do my colleagues, that the law is on our side and so we will appeal and overrule the judge’s decision at no cost to the Tennessee taxpayer. [The Thomas More Law Center] believes we have standing as well to overrule the judge’s decision and we have 60 days to appeal. The Judge and his court are in error and we fight on!
Sen. Stevens was more reserved in his response to The Tennessee Star’s question about his support for moving forward with an appeal:
I am currently still reviewing the trial court’s ruling and accessing the legal grounds for our appeal. Because I have not completed this review, I am not in a position to confirm or deny supporting moving forward with an appeal at this time. I do not concede with your statement that there is a general consensus regarding the partial motivation for the lawsuit. Consensus of whom? As a party to the lawsuit, this lawsuit is about the line between lawful encouragement by the federal government upon states to accept federal spending priorities and unlawful coercion by the federal government to force states to spend state taxpayer dollars on federal programs. Federal case law does not draw a bright line and this case represents an opportunity to further clarify the law and protect state taxpayers from federal overreach.
[The Tennessee Star relayed to Sen. Stevens that it has been reported to us that there seems to be a general consensus that the lawsuit and an appeal represent, in part, an effort to protect and preserve jobs for workers in Tennessee as opposed to federal contractors placing low wage workers in the state through the refugee program who may compete with either unskilled or low-skilled Tennessee workers.]
Part of the district Stevens represents includes the newly planned Tyson Foods plant in Humboldt. The Tennessee Star has previously reported on the employment of refugees in Tyson Foods meat processing facilities. A supplemental appropriation of $18 million dollars for Tyson Foods was added to this year’s state budget.
In a follow-up question, Stevens indicated that his review would allow “ample time” to file a notice of appeal should he agree to move forward.
According to the TMLC, the Notice of Appeal must be filed by May 18, 2018, but they would appreciate receiving final approval to move forward by the end of April” to ensure we have sufficient time to put the documents together and timely file the notice.”
Rep. Lamberth was contacted on Saturday and The Tennessee Star anticipates receiving his response which will be published upon receipt.