Metro Consolidation Case Stays Alive

By Bill Dries

The Shelby County Election Commission can certify the results of the Nov. 2 referendum on the metro consolidation charter.

But U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Anderson also ruled Thursday that he will not dismiss the federal court case that challenges the requirement that the charter had to win approval in two referenda – one in the city of Memphis and the other in Shelby County outside Memphis.

Defendants in the case, including Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper and the Shelby County Election Commission, sought to have the lawsuit filed by eight citizens dismissed, claiming the election results made the case moot.

The plaintiffs said because the consolidation question is likely to be resurrected soon, it should remain alive.

The consolidation charter passed narrowly in the city of Memphis but lost by a lopsided margin in the county outside Memphis.

Tennessee law requires the “dual majorities” as part of the process of consolidating city and county governments that has resulted in three pairs of consolidation referenda in Memphis – the first in 1962, another in 1971 and the third in the Nov. 2, 2010, elections. The proposed consolidation charters have failed all three times.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim the law violates the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote” and they sought a single countywide vote count.

The defendants claim the “one person, one vote” principle doesn’t apply to such a ballot question and that the U.S. Supreme Court has backed that up by ruling “one person, one vote” only applies to elections of candidates in district races.

Nothing in Thursday’s ruling applies to the larger questions raised by both sides.

Anderson, in the nine-page ruling, noted there was three months between the filing of the proposed metro consolidation charter and the election. That, he ruled, was not adequate time for a court review. And he cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a similar case in which that court said 18 months wasn’t adequate time for such a review.

Anderson also found that despite the defeat at the polls, there is a case to be made for the relevance of the case going forward.

“Here, at this stage in the litigation … the court finds that there is a reasonable expectation that this controversy will recur in the future,” he wrote.