NASHVILLE - Black legislative leaders said Tuesday their caucus will file a lawsuit challenging Republican redistricting plans if they think the map, which is being drawn in secret, violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
Rep. G.A. Hardaway, chairman of the Legislature's Black Caucus, called on Republicans to include caucus members in helping shape the plan that reapportions and redraws the 99 House and 33 Senate districts to reflect minority voters.
"We will sue if it's not in compliance with the Voting Rights Act as the Black Caucus sees it," Hardaway said.
In a statement, Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, of Nashville, said it "is well established that one of the many criteria we use in developing redistricting concepts is compliance with the Voting Rights Act, and it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise. ... Our goal has always been to draw fair and legal lines and to get 99 votes in the House."
She said the redistricting process is a "work in progress."
"I would like to request that work be allowed to continue without the threat of a lawsuit," she said. "That is counterproductive to the process at this point."
Hardaway and other Black Caucus leaders also voiced concerns that GOP leaders' timetable for revealing the plan in subcommittee on Jan. 11 and having a final vote Jan. 23 moves too quickly.
Republicans have been showing individual Democrats, including black lawmakers, what will happen to them under the redistricting plan, but Hardaway say it is difficult to construct the entire "puzzle" from those pieces.
Harwell said Republicans hope to have a plan ready for subcommittee work by the beginning of the legislative session. There will be ample time for "full and open dialogue," she said.
"We are trying to work with every member of the General Assembly to hear their concerns, and there are no exceptions due to party or caucus," Harwell said.
Hardaway also fretted about GOP plans to put Reps. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, and Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga, into the same district.
Both are black. Brown represents a majority-black district, and Favors represents a district in which black voters have a significant presence. Republicans have said there are not enough black voters to constitute two majority-black districts and that Brown's district needs additional black voters to maintain its status as a minority-majority district.
"We'll say that gives us concerns," Hardaway said.
His comments were made to reporters after a caucus task force met with experts to begin outlining a possible legal challenge. Republicans will control redistricting for the first time in Tennessee history next year.