The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Tennessee Republican Party (TRP) Friday, vacating the injunction ordering Robby Starbuck on the August Republican Primary ballot, and ruled that the TRP is not subject to the Tennessee Open Meetings Act (TOMA).
The Court stated that Chancery Court Judge Russell Perkins erred in his decision.
The Court said in the order:
This Court assumed jurisdiction over this case pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d) and Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 48. We conclude that the trial court erred in granting an injunction to Plaintiff Robert Starbuck Newsom a/k/a Robby Starbuck because the Tennessee Open Meetings Act does not apply to the Defendants, the Tennessee Republican Party and the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee. Therefore, the order of the trial court granting the temporary injunction is vacated, and the case is remanded to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this Opinion. All other matters are deemed moot.
Starbuck will not be a candidate on the August 4 Republican primary ballot, as the Court found that the Tennessee Republican Party did nothing wrong in exercising their right to determine his bona fide status.
“In finding a TOMA violation, the trial court ruled that state executive committees and state primary boards are “synonymous” under Title 2. We disagree,” said the Court in the decision.
The Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision further said:
Here, Defendants argue that the trial court erred in determining that TOMA applies to the TRP SEC. We agree. Title 2 of the Tennessee Code governs the elections of this state and provides that each political party shall have both a “state executive committee” and a “state primary board.” Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 2-13-102, 2-13-103 (2014). Various statutory provisions in Title 2 describe the responsibilities of the state executive committees, while other statutory provisions set forth the responsibilities of the state primary boards.
The Court additionally stated that political party state executive committees and primary boards are distinct and separate entities:
The plain language of the statutory scheme in Title 2 demonstrates that state executive committees and state primary boards are distinct entities with distinct responsibilities. Under Title 2, only the state primary boards, not the state executive committees, are required to comply with TOMA. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-108(a)(2) (2014) (“Meetings of each state primary board shall be open and subject to title 8, chapter 44.”); see also Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-1-113 (2014) (the meetings of boards and commissions established under Title 2 shall be open).3 Thus, the determinative issue is whether the TRP SEC was acting as a state primary board (subject to TOMA) or a state executive committee (not subject to TOMA) when it determined in a non-public meeting that Mr. Starbuck was not a bona fide Republican.
The decision found that:
Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-13-104 provides that “a party may require by rule that candidates for its nominations be bona fide members of the party.” Under Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-5-204(b)(2), a party’s state executive committee makes the determination of whether a candidate is a bona fide member of the party. Thus, the TRP SEC, by statute, was acting as a state executive committee, and not a state primary board, when it determined that Mr. Starbuck was not a bona fide Republican. As a result, the TRP SEC did not violate TOMA by making that determination in a non-public meeting because it was not required to comply with TOMA.
The decision also said:
The Opinion of this Court is not subject to rehearing under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 39, and the Clerk is directed to certify the Opinion as final and to immediately issue the mandate. Costs on appeal are taxed to the Plaintiff, Robert Starbuck Newsom a/k/a Robby Starbuck, for which execution may issue if necessary.
The Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision was unanimous.
According to the Tennessee Supreme Court, “JEFFREY S. BIVINS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROGER A. PAGE, C.J., and SHARON G. LEE, HOLLY KIRBY, and SARAH K. CAMPBELL, JJ., joined.”
Read the full opinion:
Read the court’s order:
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