Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Ramsey Soliciting Ideas for New Judicial District Maps

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is expected today to announce he’s seeking input from the legal community and the general public on what reworked state judicial district maps should look like.

Tennessee’s judicial districts have not been redrawn since 1984. And with districts set to elect their district attorneys general, public defenders and state trial court judges this August, some powerful figures in the General Assembly are saying that this legislative session represents the best chance to improve the efficiency of the districts through redistricting.

“The last time our judicial districts were updated Waylon Jennings and Michael Jackson were at the top of the charts,” Ramsey told TNReport in a statement. “Tennessee is a far different place that it was in 1984. Formerly rural counties have become thoroughly suburban, and our suburban counties now confront problems similar to urban areas. We desperately need to take a fresh look at this judicial map to ensure Tennesseans receive the best possible service from their judges, district attorneys and public defenders.”

At a forum sponsored by the Associated Press last week, Ramsey said Tennessee’s judicial districts are “completely out of whack.”

Ramsey added that he isn’t particularly looking forward to the undertaking. He indicated the process of legislative redistricting last year was a bigger headache than he’d anticipated.

“Really, there’s no political upside to this,” the East Tennessee Republican said. “It is something that I just think is good government and efficiency and making sure that the judiciary operates as efficiently as we do.”

Ramsey also said that, in addition to the public at large, he is requesting input from those that would be directly affected, such as the Trial Judges Association, the District Attorneys General Conference and the Tennessee Bar Association.

Officials with the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts have said they have no opinion on redistricting, but Ramsey has said that the process will likely be controversial.

The debate over judicial redistricting is not a new one. Unlike legislative redistricting, it is not mandated by the Tennessee Constitution. And since the mid-1990s — about 10 years after the last redistricting — state officials have been debating how best to go about it — or whether to do it at all.

In 2007, the Comptroller’s Office awarded a $126,522 contract to the Justice Management Institute and George Mason University to conduct a study of potential judicial redistricting in Tennessee (pdf).

The five-page report after the study came to this conclusion: There was no need for redistricting, but more study was needed.

From the report: “Only a few people provided any thoughts about potential benefits, namely the creation of more time available to justice professionals to process cases, lower caseloads and reduced travel time.”

Trent Seibert can be reached at, on Twitter(@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.

NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

TN Gets ‘C’ on Anti-Corruption Report Card

When it comes to integrity and openness in state governments, Tennessee is among the tallest of the leprechauns.

The state earned a 76, good enough for a C in a new national study gauging each state’s risk of corruption conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and two other nonprofit groups. Not one state earned an A. But despite the report’s criticism of the state for a weak ethics commission and secretive budget talks, Tennessee still ranked 8th among the 50 states.

The study measured the states in various categories relating to “transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms.”

“High scores for Tennessee’s pension fund and auditing process are offset by weak campaign finance laws, a toothless ethics commission, and a secret redistricting process,” according to a summary of the state’s score.

The state received an F for lack of openness in redistricting and a D- for Ethics Enforcement Agencies — a problem that TNReport explored in August.

The report notes the push for more stringent ethics legislation after the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz sting operation in 2005, but questions the effectiveness of the Tennessee Ethics Commission created as a result.

The report also gives special attention to the debate about judicial accountability and corporate money in politics.


Press Releases

New Legislative, Congressional Districts Explorable In Google Maps

Press Release from Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey; Jan. 27, 2012: 

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey today announced the online release of Tennessee’s new state Senate district maps with “street-level” detail. The release is an unprecedented step in the history of redistricting in Tennessee and gives the general public access to the same information as county election officials.

“The first Republican redistricting process was not just fair and legal — it was also open and honest,” said Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. “Technology has given us the opportunity to distribute information quickly, efficiently and with little cost to the taxpayer. The new districts belong to Tennessee citizens so it is important for us to make the new maps widely available as soon as possible.”

Using Google’s publicly available Maps application, the Office of Legislative Information Services has created a map that displays Tennessee’s new redistricting data in a clean, detailed and easy-to-use fashion. Citizens now have the ability to find their own district as well as explore districts statewide.

This year’s redistricting has been the most open, interactive and transparent redistricting process in Tennessee history. In September, Lt. Governor Ramsey opened the redistricting process, soliciting map proposals from the general public. Any Tennessean with access to a computer and an internet connection had the ability to participate in the redistricting process.


Press Releases

Stewart Wants to Tweak Congressional District Map

Press Release from state Sen. Eric Stewart, D- Belvidere; Jan. 12, 2012:

Plan Would Make More Counties Whole

NASHVILLE – State Senator Eric Stewart sponsored an amendment Thursday to restore counties within a Congressional redistricting proposal that will go before the Senate on Friday.

“We can make this plan both legal and fair to counties so that they might stay whole and within their current districts,” Stewart said. “I would hope such a plan would receive a fair look in what has been an otherwise hurried process.”

Under Stewart’s amendment to Senate Bill 1515, Coffee County would be included once again in the Fourth Congressional District, where it is currently. Under the proposal before the Senate, Coffee County would be in the Sixth District with counties like Sumner and Wilson.

The amendment would also make Maury County wholly within the Fourth District. The county is split between the Fourth and Seventh Districts under the majority party’s proposal.

Van Buren County, which has a small portion in the proposed Sixth District, would also be wholly in the Fourth District under Stewart’s amendment.

Finally, the amendment would make Bradley County wholly within the Third Congressional District, where it currently is included. In all, the Fourth District would move from having three split counties in the current proposal to only one under Stewart’s plan.

“This map is constitutional, keeps counties together, and preserves the rural nature of the Fourth Congressional District,” Stewart said. “If we really want what’s best for Tennessee voters, this amendment gives us the opportunity to provide it.”


Featured Transparency and Elections

1-2-3, Go! Redistricting Maps Advance

Tweaks to the lines on redrawn Democratic districts in the state House came down to something like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.

House lawmakers approved the new maps 67-25-3 Thursday. Speaker Beth Harwell said she had politely encouraged Democrats to throw some votes her party’s way for the sake of bipartisanship appearances.

“I said to (Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner), ‘If we are making these concessions for some of your members, I would appreciate votes from your caucus,’” she said.

That left the #1 and #2 Democrats to figure out who would make Harwell feel appreciated.

“I’d like to think it was a little punitive, maybe, because the discussions were pretty hot and heavy,” Turner, of Old Hickory, said. … “I thought it was worth that to save a couple of our members.”

Turner threw down rock to Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s paper in their session to make sure the speaker got at least one leadership vote from their side. Turner was one of six Democrats who voted in favor of the Republican-drawn maps, while Fitzhugh toed the party line.

“Everybody we had that was paired, we tried to do so something about that,” said Turner, who had been one of the most vocal critics of GOP maps. “In areas where it didn’t impact their members, they decided to give us a couple of those back.”

In the final hours before the map was approved by the chamber, Republicans agreed to make these concessions to preserve incumbent advantage:

  • Separate Democrats Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart, who had been drawn into the same south Nashville district.
  • Return Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, to the district he represents now. He had been lumped into the same district as Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.
  • Adjust the lines in the district represented by Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville.

Democrats pitched a handful of other amendments to the maps on the House floor, mainly attempts to make more Shelby County districts represent a greater percentage of minorities. All those attempts failed.

The maps fell “way short on minority representation,” according to Turner, although he said he wanted to talk to the Tennessee Democratic Party, the General Assembly’s Black Caucus and other “interested parties” before deciding whether to challenge the lawsuit in court.

Harwell said the Democratic votes symbolize that the map has bipartisan support.

“Bottom line is, surely it sends a clear message that a majority of the members in this General Assembly is pleased with it, and I think the people of this state will be well represented by this map,” she said. “No one can doubt that we have drawn these lines fairly, that there’s proper representation from each district.”

In the new map, sitting House members who would have to run against other legislators (unless they relocated) are situated in:

  • District 28 in Hamilton County: Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, and Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga
  • District 31 in Sequatchie, Bledsoe, Rhea and part of Roane counties: Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap
  • District 86 in Shelby County: Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, and G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis
  • District 98 in Shelby County: Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, and Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis

The Senate is expected to vote on its maps and OK the House drawings Friday. If approved by both chambers, the maps will go to the governor for his approval.

Featured NewsTracker

And, They’re Back

Redistricting is expected to dominate lawmakers’ first week back at the Capitol as they consider a set of Republican-drawn maps for state House and Senate and Congressional districts.

House and Senate committees have begin meeting today to consider maps that change the boundaries of their House and Senate districts and lay new lines for Congressional districts, which is done every decade after the U.S. Census.

The committees will begin meeting today to review the maps. Debate will likely be long and heated as the new maps throw 12 Democrats into contested races, in many cases against each other.

The Legislature normally meets until Thursday, but both chambers are prepared to stay longer if needed to OK the new districts.

As legislators get back into the groove, Gov. Bill Haslam is at the ready to unveil his legislative agenda this afternoon. Those priorities are in addition to a plan he announced last week to target crime by increasing jail time for repeat offenders in domestic abuse cases, making it easier for law enforcement to crack down on prescription pill addicts and allowing the Department of Correction to supervise parolees.

Featured News Transparency and Elections

Speaker Harwell: House GOP-Drawn Legislative Districts ‘Less Politically Gerrymandered’

Republicans publicly unveiled their new legislative maps for the first time Wednesday, and to Democrats’ surprise, it wasn’t as bad as they expected.

That’s not to say they didn’t find aspects to complain about, though.

The House proposal pits 12 mostly Democratic incumbents against each other in six districts and pencils in another half-dozen empty districts prime for open legislative races.

Meanwhile the Senate map lumps the Democratic leader in the same district as an up-and-coming Republican and forces two other GOP members into a face off.

“We feel very good about a plan that is fair and certainly less politically gerrymandered than the way the districts are currently drawn,” Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters after an ad hoc committee approved the new maps Wednesday. “We’ve gone out of our way to be as fair as possible. I can’t control the demographics of this state.”

The House hopes to approve final redistricting plans next week, although Democrats say it will take them the better part of a month to run the numbers and understand what the new districts look like in practical political terms.

“I’m not real fond of it,” said Rep. Mike Turner, the Democratic Caucus Chairman from Old Hickory. “There are some districts I don’t like. There are some districts they’ve draw that actually, I think, give us a good opportunity to win. We’ve got to balance those out.”

Democrats say they’re concerned that the proposal would ultimately reduce the number of African American lawmakers as the new map forces four members into contested races against each other and another minority lawmaker into the same district as a fellow Democrat.

Former Speaker Kent Williams says the GOP’s redistricting plan may be “politically motivated,” but not as much as Democratic plans were in past.

House lawmakers approved the maps in an ad hoc redistricting committee and a State and Local Government subcommittee hearing with plans to take the maps up again next week when the Legislature returns to officially begin its 2012 legislative session.

Senate lawmakers plan to publicly review their proposed maps Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s office. Republicans posted their maps online shortly after the House hearings.

“This is the first time that our members have seen any official redistricting maps, and the first opportunity to view this specific map,” said Jackson Democrat Lowe Finney, the Senate minority caucus chairman. “We are committed to an open and public process as this issue greets us at the beginning of a new legislative session.”

Under the House plan, six districts would be left without sitting representatives. They include the proposed:

  • District 29 in Hamilton County
  • District 37 in Rutherford County
  • District 59 in Davidson County
  • District 65 in Wilson County
  • District 89 in Knox County
  • District 92 in Marshall and parts of Lincoln, Franklin and Marion Counties.
The House plan also draws six districts with two incumbents in each. They include:
  • District 28 in Hamilton County; Chattanooga Democratic Reps. Tommie Brown, Joanne Favors
  • District 31 in Sequatchie, Blodsoe, Rhea and part of Roane Counties; Reps. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap
  • District 52 in Davidson County; Nashville Democratic Reps. Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart
  • District 71 in Hardin, Wayne and part of Lawrence and Giles Counties; Reps. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect and Vance Dennis, R-Savannah
  • District 86 in Shelby County; Memphis Democratic Reps. Barbara Cooper and G.A. Hardaway.
  • District 98 in Shelby County; Memphis Democratic Reps. Jeanne Richardson and Antonio Parkinson

In the Senate, the new districts would pin four lawmakers into two districts:

  • District 28 in Shelby County; Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.
  • District 25 in Cheatham, Dickson, Robertson, Humphreys, Lewis, Perr Counties; Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield and Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson.
Press Releases

Ramsey: State Senate Redistricting Map ‘Fair and Legal’

Press Release from the Office of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey:

(January 4, 2011, NASHVILLE) — Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey today announced the release of the Senate’s first-ever Republican-drawn redistricting map. The plan was put together by the Senate’s Working Group on Redistricting with the assistance of the Office of Legal Services and is now available at the General Assembly’s website.

“We were committed to drawing a fair and legal state senate map and that is exactly what we have done.” said Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. “The map emphasizes regional integrity and adheres to state and federal laws as well as court precedent. I look forward to concluding the redistricting process swiftly and efficiently as soon as we go into session next week.”

This year’s redistricting has been the most open, interactive and transparent redistricting process in Tennessee history. By placing an unprecedented amount of information and data online for use by the general public, Lt. Governor Ramsey opened up the process to any Tennessean with access to a computer.

In addition to Lt. Governor Ramsey the Senate Working Group on redistricting included three regional coordinators: Majority Leader Mark Norris, Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron and Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson.

This unprecedented release includes both a statewide map as well as regional and urban center breakout maps for public perusal. A comprehensive memorandum explaining the new map in detail can also be found at the website:

NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Redistricting Discussions Set to Get Formal, Go Public

Tennessee lawmakers are about to take up an issue that’ll impact elections for the next decade — where to draw legislative district lines.

State House Republicans, who plan to release their proposed new district maps to the public Tuesday, say they drew the lines in hopes of gaining the most GOP seats — and not in a way to protect incumbents against potential primary election rivals.

“As far as I know, no one drew a line based on a potential challenger,” said House GOP Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

Republicans in the House expect to vote on their new map in a redistricting ad hoc committee Tuesday morning, then again in the State and Local Government subcommittee later that day with hopes of moving the bill to the full committee and chamber for a vote next week.

The General Assembly’s regular session for the year is scheduled to commence Tuesday.

Democratic leaders who say they have only a short glimpse at the complete House map say Republicans lumped their members together unnecessarily.

As many as nine seats could be up for grabs, according to House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, Old Hickory. But Turner said his caucus would lose four seats in the November election in a “worst case scenario.”

“What really concerns me about this map is that the African American population, under any circumstances in (Republicans’) map, it appears they’re going to lose at least two members in a year where African American representation has grown,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory.

The meeting agenda shows that the committee will review House, Senate and Congressional maps, which have all be drafted behind closed doors. Leadership staff couldn’t confirm all three will be revealed and voted on at the Tuesday meeting.

“Maybe we could have been more open in the beginning but I don’t think that would have helped us in getting the job done,” said McCormick. “We tried to keep it fair and legal and we tried to keep communities together if possible. If Republicans do a good job of running things this year, then that will help us.”

The Republican-heavy Legislature is charged with dividing the 6.3 million Tennesseans evenly into 99 House districts, 33 Senate districts and nine Congressional districts. The practice is repeated every 10 years following the U.S. Census.

Area leaders appointed to work with representatives from their geographical areas and in-house legal counsel to drew the new lines, according to Republican Speaker Beth Harwell’s office. Lawmakers can vote to change the lines as the bill moves through the Legislature.


Press Releases

Ramsey Wants Redistricting Submissions By Nov. 1, Plugs League of Women Voters’ Contest

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; Oct. 27, 2011: 

Last Chance to be a Part of the Most Open Redistricting Process in History

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey today issued a reminder to Tennesseans that the deadline for citizen participation in the redistricting process is approaching. Last month, the Lieutenant Governor made clear his commitment to an efficient and open Senate redistricting process by placing an unprecedented amount of information and data online for use by the general public.??This year’s redistricting process is the first in history to be open to any Tennessee citizen with access to a computer. Submissons are due by Tuesday, November 1.

“I’m so glad to live in an age where both the political will and the technological tools exist to allow this kind of open process,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Armed with the data we have posted online and the appropriate software, individual citizens can draw their own maps and submit them for consideration. I truly hope they will do so before the deadline on Tuesday.”

The guidelines to submit a plan, along with the names and numbers of the regional redistricting coordinators, have also been posted online at

Current population data and maps with a graphic representation of current districts are also available and are divided by Grand Division.??The Office of the Lietenant Governor would also like to encourage citizens to submit their maps to the League of Women Voters’ “Map It Out! contest.??”As a conservative, I appreciate their use of financial incentives to encourage quality work,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “The League of Women Voters have provided a great extra encouragement for citizens and students to get involved in the process.”??For more information on the League of Women Voters contest visit