Hours after a new law allowing litigants to request a three-judge panel in constitutional challenges went into effect, state lawyers requested one such panel in the long-running dispute between the state and its largest school systems over education funding.
State lawyers filed the request before 10 a.m. Thursday, the first day of the new law, in the Davidson County Chancery Court, where the lawsuit was filed and has progressed for several years.
Nashville and Shelby County schools argue in the lawsuit that Tennessee’s Basic Education Program for funding local school systems is inadequate.
This year, Tennessee Republicans took aim at the Davidson County Chancery Court, whose chancellors are elected by the mostly Democratic Nashville electorate and which has historically handled trials involving constitutional challenges. Though such cases can then be appealed to Republican-controlled higher courts, Republicans complained that the Davidson County court was not giving them a fair shake.
Their first effort to strip power from Davidson County judges — a threat to remove Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle from the bench by force — has already caused disruptions in the BEP case, as Lyle recused herself from handling the case after the Republican attacks. Then, Republican supermajorities in the legislature moved in the final days of the legislative session to create a new trial court system specifically for constitutional cases that would allow for the establishment of three-judge panels — one from each Grand Division — to handle trials.
In acknowledging the state’s request for a three-judge panels, the school systems’ lawyers said they reserved the right to challenge the constitutionality of the new law’s application to ongoing cases, as opposed to ones filed after the law went into effect Thursday.