A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday that keeps the current Rutherford County Elections Administrator in his job for the time being.
U.S. District Judge John Nixon issued the stay after a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Rutherford County Election Administrator Hooper Penuel and seven other election administrators contending Republicans violated their constitutional rights by replacing them with Republican appointees.
Last week, the election commission voted to postpone looking for a new administrator after Penuel filed suit against the three Republican election commissioners – Tom Walker, Doris Jones and Oscar Gardner – in their official capacity for allegedly breaking state law by attempting to replace him with another appointee.
“This has a direct impact on whether the representatives (election commission) in Rutherford County can terminate for political reasons and replace for political reasons Hooper (Penuel),” Gary Blackburn said.
Blackburn is the Nashville attorney who is representing Penuel along with seven former county election administrators from across Tennessee who have been fired this year since the Republicans took control of election commissions statewide.
The election commission also voted along party lines to hire Chattanooga attorneys Wes Kilner and J. Christopher Clem to represent the Republicans in the case.
Although Penuel still has his job, he joined the suit and sought stop the election commission from firing him until the case is resolved.
Penuel was asked to reapply for his post along with 90 other applicants.
Blackburn explained local election commissions may have violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, as well as the Tennessee Constitution by firing Democratically appointed administrators for Republican appointees.
The main issue is a Tennessee Attorney General opinion issued earlier this year, which said it is against state and federal law to fire an employee based on political affiliation, unless they are in a policy-making position and elections administrators are not policy-making posts.
Penuel is the only currently employed administrator; the other seven already have been fired by their local election commissions.