The results of August referendums on municipal school districts and November school board elections in all six of the suburbs outside of Memphis were voided by U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays tonight.
Central to the case was a law passed by the state legislature this year that allowed the suburbs to hold referendums on municipal schools and school board elections ahead of the August 2013 merger of Memphis and Shelby County Schools. Lawyers for the Shelby County Commission and the Memphis City Council argued to the judge that this law was written to apply only to Shelby County, and thus it should be thrown out (under the Tennessee Constitution it is illegal to pass a law that only applies to one place.)
Lawyers for the suburbs outside of Memphis argued that the law could apply in other counties, too, but Judge Mays was unconvinced by this argument. Mays wrote that discussion of the bill on the floor of the state legislature, (what is know as the bill’s “history”), demonstrated otherwise, even if many lawmakers weren’t willing to admit it directly, “There is a sense in the history of a wink and a nod, a candid discussion of the bill's purpose occasionally blurred, ” Mays wrote in his ruling. “The history is clear, however, that the bill never would have passed had it not been intended to apply only to Shelby County.”
This ruling is the opposite of what suburban leaders were hoping for, “I think they [the municipalities] are going to appeal it immediately,” said Senior Reporter for the Memphis Daily News Bill Dries, “to the 6th [U.S.] Circuit Court of Appeals.”
Whether the suburbs appeal his ruling or not, Mays will move on to deciding whether or not two more state laws that impact the future of municipal school districts here in Shelby County are legal under the Tennessee Constitution.
“There is one critical date coming up in all of this and that is August 2013. That is when Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools are scheduled to merge,” said Dries. “If the other two state laws that the judge did not rule on (for now) stand, then conceivably the suburban leaders could start this drive to municipal school districts all over again on the merger date.”
The judge has asked for arguments to be submitted to him by December 11.
The judge's full ruling is 65 pages. To read it click here.