With Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) apparently at the forefront, the Tennessee Republican party is turning up the heat to redraw state judicial districts.
A supposed logic supporting this redistricting is that Ramsey and Harwell’s proposed map would correct decades of illogical gerrymandering by Democratic-led legislatures and better recognize Tennessee’s regional distinctions.
Tennessee was last redrawn in 1984, and from what I can gather, there was tremendous fallout over redistricting at that time. For sure, it doesn’t take a brainy politico to realize that redistricting an entire state is a major undertaking, one that would create waves for decades, even generations, to come – regardless the true motives behind it.
Attempting to wrap my mind around this redistricting issue, thus to have a more objective, unbiased grasp, I spoke with an eclectic mix of Middle Tennesseans and asked for their opinions. Not one single person with whom I spoke was for redistricting Tennessee's judicial districts.
Wanting to whittle it down a bit sharper, a well-placed insider gave me an April 2009 report titled, “Tennessee Judicial Redistricting Study: Conclusions & Recommendations.”
This independent, contract study was conducted by M. Elaine Nugent-Borakove, of the Justice Management Institute, and Jon Gould and Holly Stevens, of the Center for Justice, Law & Security, both of which are departments at George Mason University.
This study reached five major conclusions:
1. Few, if any, states have articulated specific criteria for redistricting.
2. There is significant variation in local practice among and within districts as to where cases will be heard. The determination of district boundaries must take these local practices into consideration.
3. There is substantial local opposition to re-drawing district lines.
4. Based on the data collected for this study, the Justice Management Institute does not recommend that judicial redistricting occur at this time.
5. Workload equalization and access to courts can be achieved without redrawing district boundaries through the use of the weighted caseload methodology to allocate judicial resources.
It appears the result of my amateurish survey on redistricting in Tennessee, pretty much, correlates with the findings of the study.
I spoke at length with a long-time politican from Middle Tennessee who said two groups would be adversely affected by the proposal: children and tax-paying citizens.
For example, it literally takes years to get a Children’s Advocacy Center accredited by the state, to get federal grants and other type support. So, if this redistricting goes through, it would screw up those already accredited, up and operating, and providing a service that should take priority over any arm-wrestling grudge match between state Republicans and Democrats: Helping children in dire need of help.
There is one new eight-county scenario that would have Coffee County and Macon County in the same district, with one Circuit Court judge, one district attorney general, and one public defender.
Of course, all these people would receive mileage pay for traveling from one county to the others, according to the policitian.
The reason I mention this is: Would redistricting really save the state any money?
Now, let’s say the district attorney general is located in Tullahoma, which is deep in Coffee County, he has to make a three-hour drive – one way – to Macon County, which is right on the Kentucky line, to look in on a multiple homicide.
During that time period, the politician said, the perps have a much better chance of getting away and not being caught. Bottom line, the criminals will benefit, and the law-bidding victims will suffer even more.
Regarding the overall welfare of the state constituency, this redistricting proposal warrants more in-depth scrutiny.
What is the real truth behind this redistricting proposal?
Who stands to gain and who stands to lose?