Tennessee sued over residency bill alleging it’s unconstitutional

Hours after Tennessee General Assembly leadership signed legislation to enact new residency requirements for congressional candidates, three Tennesseans filed a federal lawsuit alleging the requirements are unconstitutional.

Barbra Collins, Amy Dudley and Donald Sobery filed the lawsuit Thursday afternoon in federal court in Nashville, naming Tennessee and Secretary of State Trey Hargett as defendants in the lawsuit over a candidate for the 5th Congressional District.

Plaintiffs allege the bill, not yet law, would “blatantly” violate the Constitution, which outlines less stringent qualifications to qualify for US House of Representatives, and prohibit the plaintiffs from voting for their preferred candidate, Morgan Ortagus.

The legislation will soon be transmitted to Gov. Bill Lee, who will have 10 days to sign the legislation, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

Residency bill:Tennessee legislature passes residency bill that would disqualify Trump-backed candidate

The residency requirement bill began moving through the General Assembly shortly after Ortagus gained an early endorsement from former President Donald Trump, who praised the Fox News commentator for her work at the State Department during his administration.

Some lawmakers expressed concerns the legislation would meet constitutional challenges, though sponsors said tailoring the legislation to apply to primary candidates would assume those issues.

The contested bill, which cleared a final legislative hurdle in the House on Monday, requires three years state residency for candidates to qualify in a congressional primary election for.

“If this Provision is enforced and allowed to proceed, Ortagus would no longer be eligible to represent the Fifth Congressional District and would be required to suspend her campaign, thereby robbing Plaintiffs of the opportunity to vote for their candidate of choice in the August 4, 2022 Republican primary,” the lawsuit states.

Though lawmakers never directly mentioned Ortagus, she was widely understood to be the target of the bill after announcing her candidacy just a year after relocating to Nashville from Washington DC

She has no political record in the state, little name recognition in the state when she announced her campaign and initially didn’t live in the new-look 5th District following the General Assembly’s redistricting effort that forced US Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville , to announce his retirement.

Secretary of State records suggest she has since moved into the new district. There is no requirement for congressional candidates living in the district they seek to represent.

Ortagus’s campaign on Monday did not answer a Tennessean inquiry as to whether she would challenge the bill, but she said she was “proud” to be part of the Nashville community.

“No one questioned my residency when I served our country in the intelligence community, the Trump Administration, nor in the US Navy Reserves, and President Trump certainly didn’t question my residency when he endorsed me for this seat,” Ortagus said. “I continue to trust my fellow Tennesseans, the voters in the 5th district, to choose who will best represent them in Congress.”

DC outlet Punchbowl News earlier this week reported a well-funded super PAC was expected to support a lawsuit over the bill once enacted.

The Tennessean has not yet reached the plaintiffs’ law firm, Dickinson Wright, for comment.

More than a dozen Republican candidates have picked up qualifying petitions for the 5th Congressional primary, according to Secretary of State records. The new-look district includes parts of Davidson, Williamson and Wilson counties, along with rural Lewis, Maury and Marshall counties.

The petition filing deadline is April 7, several days before Lee’s deadline to take action on the bill.

Reach Melissa Brown at [email protected].

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