Cooper: Twins in flouting the law

Cooper: Twins in flouting the law

September 6th, 2019 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Contributed Photo / Nashville Mayor David Briley, second from right, laughs with, from left, then-Gov. Bill Haslam, Amazon's Holly Sullivan and Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe after Amazon announced Nashville would be getting a significant Amazon center last November.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The two individuals in question would never want to be lumped together, but Nashville Mayor David Briley and Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott are both advocating public officials flout the law.

Briley, a Democrat by political affiliation, on Tuesday issued an executive order that, in effect, declared his city to be sovereign, with rights equal to or superior to those authorized for it by the state or federal government, in order to get around a state law forbidding the creation of sanctuary city policies protecting illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, Northcott, a Republican, has reportedly said he will not enforce domestic violence laws for people in same-sex unions or prosecute county clerks who deny marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

We think both are wrong and that both, if they have the courage of their convictions, should try to change the laws they oppose without asking other people to break them.

Briley, who reportedly trails in a runoff election for mayor next week, said in his executive order that "no Metro agency or Metro employee or agent will give ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or CBP (Customs and Border Protection) access to a person being detained," that no ICE or CBP agents will be permitted to use Metro facilities, information or equipment for investigative purposes or to execute immigration enforcement, that "no Metro agency or Metro employee or agent may spend time responding to ICE or CBP inquiries or communicating with ICE or CBP regarding a person's custody, status, release date, or home or work address," and that "Metro employees, agents or agencies may also not request information from a person about their citizenship or immigration status unless such inquiry or investigation is required by ordinance or ordered for state or federal law."

In 2018, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill requiring all law enforcement agencies in the state to fully cooperate with federal immigration officials in compliance with federal and state laws.

Clearly, Briley is asking Nashville employees not to do that.

Only 67 miles southeast from the state capital on Interstate 24, Northcutt, in commenting on domestic violence charges in 2018, said about same-sex unions, "there's no marriage to protect. So I don't prosecute them as domestics."

It's unclear whether Northcott was referring to all situations where same-sex individuals live together as a couple or just those where there is no marriage. A 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision declared a fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples.

However, Tennessee law includes among "domestic abuse victims" "adults or minors who live together or who have lived together" and "adults or minors who are dating or who have dated or who have or had a sexual relationship."

Same-sex couples who are not legally married — no matter what one thinks of such a social pairing — fit the state definition of "domestic abuse victims."

Clearly, Northcott, in reportedly saying he wouldn't enforce such laws, is in violation of his duties to administer justice.

Briley's executive order — which also asked that Nashville members of the General Assembly work to overturn the law requiring enforcement agencies to cooperate with immigration authorities — raised the ire of state Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, who sponsored the state measure Briley is flouting. He, in turn, sent a statement to the mayor and other Nashville officials reminding them to "protect the citizens of Tennessee."

"Nashville is subject to the laws of the State of Tennessee and the United States of America," the statement reads, "and the laws of both are clear: Sanctuary policies that shield illegal aliens are themselves illegal."

"The law states clearly that local government entities that do not comply are potentially 'ineligible to enter into any grant contract with the department of economic and community development,'" it also says.

Reedy's statement, as of Tuesday, was signed by 32 members of the state House and nine state senators. None of those are members of the Hamilton County delegation, but it was signed by state Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, state Rep. Mark Hall, R-Cleveland, state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and state Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma.

It's not certain what will become of the executive order if Briley loses next week, but the order's legality certainly could be challenged in court.

As for Northcott, he's already being challenged. Based on his 2018 comments, a complaint has been filed with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, and an investigation has been opened. The complaint suggests that, in violation of board rules, he is engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, and is not upholding his responsibility as a prosecutor to seek justice and make charging decisions free from discrimination or bias.

Individuals who seek public office may not like every law on the books, but they swear to uphold them. If they no longer can do that, they should resign and make changing those laws their crusade — not ask others to join them in breaking them.

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