Supreme Court justices could consider two questions about election administrators during their October or February sessions, the clerk said Wednesday.
Rutherford County Elections Administrator Hooper Penuel joined seven fired election administrators in a federal lawsuit seeking relief when Republicans took control of the Tennessee General Assembly.
The party who controls the Legislature holds the majority of county election commissions.
The Republican majority of the county election commission opened up applications for Penuel’s job. Penuel obtained a temporary restraining order in federal court.
GOP members Tom Walker, Oscar Gardner and Doris Jones did not object to continuing the order until Supreme Court justices answer the following questions:
• Does the position of administrator of elections qualify as an “office of public trust” where no political or religious test shall be used as a qualification?
• Is the administrator of elections a county employee or a state employee?
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, whose termination may be pending, and the fired administrators contend they were fired because of their actual or perceived political party affiliation.
The administrators want to know if they are county or state employees to determine employer liability.
State Supreme Court Clerk Michael Catalano said he has not received the order yet from federal court requesting the Supreme Court justices to answer the questions. Once he certifies the order, the attorneys for the election administrators will have 20 days to file briefs.
Then, the opposing side will have 20 days to answer the briefs. Since it may take until mid-September to file the briefs, the Supreme Court justices may schedule the questions for the October session.
If it’s too late for the October session, the justices may schedule the questions for the February session. The court also may decide if they want to hear oral arguments on the questions.