The Metro Department of Law is prepared to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case involving a group of Nashvillians suing the state of Tennessee over the constitutionality of a new state law that nullified Metro’s nondiscrimination policy for city contractors.
But it’s unclear when the city would file the amicus brief, which would allow Metro to serve as an impartial party to assist the court. At the moment, court proceedings haven’t reached a point to warrant the action.
A hearing before Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy is set for Sept. 16.
“The Department of Law is reviewing the current status of the pleadings and, in order to protect the legal interests of the Metropolitan Government, will file an amicus brief at the appropriate time,” Sue Cain, legal department director, said in written statement.
The key words in Cain’s statement seem to be “will file.” Cain provided Metro’s position to The City Paper one day after the Metro Council voted 26-9 Tuesday to approve a non-binding memorializing resolution to ask the legal department to support the plaintiffs’ suit against Gov. Bill Haslam in the form of the amicus brief.
Despite furious opposition from Christian conservatives, the council in April approved an ordinance to require companies that do business with the city to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their employee protection policies. Mayor Karl Dean signed the bill into law.
But the new policy was quickly overturned by the Republican-dominated state legislature, which passed what bill sponsor Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) called the Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act. Signed into law by Haslam, the measure prevents local municipalities from forcing private businesses to adopt protections for gay, lesbian and transgender employees.
The state’s action was met in June by a Davidson County Chancery Court lawsuit that questions the constitutionality of the state law, but Metro government didn’t sign on as a plaintiff.
Instead, notable plaintiffs include Council members Erik Cole, Erica Gilmore and Mike Jameson; gay rights advocate Lisa Howe; the Tennessee Equality Project; and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. Haslam is the only listed defendant.
Though the amicus brief wouldn’t add Metro to the list of plaintiffs, it could provide key testimony.
“It lends a lot of gravitas to the case that Metro would be filing the brief,” said Chris Sanders, chairman of the Tennessee Equality Project’s Nashville Committee. “We have a great coalition of plaintiffs, but the fact that Metro, one of the largest cities in the state, would lend its view to the case will certainly be a boost.”
Abby Rubenfeld, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said she’s pleased Metro would offer the amicus brief. She interprets the decision as Metro backing the plaintiffs’ cause.
“I’m happy that Metro is supporting our side,” Rubenfeld said. “I think there’s important issues aside from whether people are going to be treated equally in our state. There’s also issues about the authority of local governments, and I’m glad Metro’s going to speak up on those.”