The Tennessee Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday on the a case that will decide the date of the special election to replace ousted former Mayor Megan Barry.
According to News5 reporter Emily Luxen, the Court “will issue a decision sometime next week.”
Arguments just ended at the TN Supreme Court regarding the date of the Nashville Mayoral Election. The Supreme Court will issue an opinion sometime next week. pic.twitter.com/knp4I7YGy1
— Emily Luxen (@NC5_EmilyLuxen) April 9, 2018
At issue is a decision made by the Metro Nashville Election Commission, who said the election date should fall on August 2.
Three of the five members of the Davidson County Election Commission ignored the plain meaning of Tennessee law and voted to set August 2, 2018 as the date for the special election to select a new mayor of Nashville late Friday afternoon, thereby plunging the city into a likely firestorm of lawsuits and threatening the legitimacy of an election held on that date,” The Tennessee Star reported last month:
Commission Chairman Jim DeLanis, Commissioner Jesse Neil, and Commissioner Emily Reynolds, all Republicans, formed the three member majority who voted in favor of the motion to set the election date at August 2. Commissioner Tricia Herzfeld and Commissioner A.J. Starling, both Democrats, formed the two member minority who voted against the motion.
However, mayoral candidate Ludye Wallace disagrees, claiming the plain-reading of the applicable law says the date should have been set to May 1.
The Tennessee Star previously reported that the timing of that special election is established in black letter law in Section 2-14-102 of the Tennessee Code Annotated:
(a) Special elections shall be held not less than seventy-five (75) days nor more than eighty (80) days after the officer or body charged with calling the election receives notice of the facts requiring the call. An election for an office shall be held on the same day in every county in which it is held. (Emphasis added.)
(b)(1) If it is necessary to hold a special election to fill a vacant seat in the United States house of representatives, a vacancy in a county office, or a vacancy in any municipal office, and the date for such election, as established under subsection (a), falls within thirty (30) days of an upcoming regular primary or general election being held in that district, the governor, or the county election commission, as specified in § 2-14-103, may issue the writ of election for the special election for the date which will coincide with the regular primary or general election. (Emphasis added.)
The Davidson County Election Commission was notified on March 6 of the vacancy, so it had the authority to set the special election from 75 days (May 21) to 80 days (May 26) subsequent to that notification, or, alternatively on May 1, the date of the mass transit referendum and the primary election for municipal judges and the sheriff in Davidson County, which is within the 30 day window from May 21 to May 26.
But Metro Legal Department attorney Nicki Eke and Commission Chairman DeLanis, an attorney currently of counsel with the prestigious law firm Baker Donelson, insisted that a precedent was established in the 1983 Tennessee Supreme Court Case of Wise v. Judd that changes the plain meaning of “general metropolitan election” as understood in both the Metro Charter and Tennessee statutes.
They argued that the opinion in that case defined a “general metropolitan election” as either the quadrennial election of the mayor and city council members (which will next be held in August 2019) or the quadrennial election of municipal judges and the sheriff (which will next be held in August 2018).
“The next general metropolitan election, based on case law, is August 2018, which is less than 12 months,” Eke said. Notably, Eke did not make the assertion that “the next general metropolitan election . . . is August 2018” based on the plain meaning of the Tennessee statutes and Metro Charter.
The Court’s summary of the case:
Ludye N. Wallace v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee Et Al.–This case is before the Court upon the Supreme Court’s grant of the plaintiff’s emergency motion to assume jurisdiction over this matter, which is on appeal from the trial court’s dismissal of the case.
The plaintiff is a mayoral candidate running for the vacant Davidson County Mayor seat. The Davidson County Election Commission scheduled the mayoral election for August 2, 2018, the date of an already scheduled election. A provision of the Metro Charter, approved in a 2007 referendum, requires a special election to be held whenever a mayoral vacancy “shall exist more than twelve (12) months prior to the date of the next general metropolitan election.”
The plaintiff argues that the August 2, 2018 election is not a “general metropolitan election” under the Metro Charter and that, thus, a special election must be held. As support for his interpretation of “general metropolitan election,” the plaintiff relies on the 2007 referendum approved by Davidson County constituents describing the provision in question as requiring a special election “whenever more than twelve (12) months remain in the unexpired term” of the office of mayor. The plaintiff maintains that, since the term of the former mayor is not set to expire until August 2019, a special election must be held in May 2018.
The defendants, however, rely on the specific language of the provision itself, which states that a special election is required only when a mayoral vacancy “shall exist more than twelve (12) months prior to the date of the next general metropolitan election.” The defendants argue that the August 2018 election is a “general metropolitan election” because it is an election in which all registered voters may participate. Thus, defendants conclude that no special election is required.
(paragraph breaks added)