MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The suburbs of Memphis are war zones these days. Not crime war zones, but legal war zones. The Shelby County Commission has filed a lawsuit saying the law that allows municipalities to set up their own school systems is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays would not stop the August 2nd election, but did say he had questions about the law, so he wants to have a hearing.
The Shelby County suburbs of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington are seeking voter approval to form their own public school districts and avoid becoming part of the merger between the Memphis and Shelby County school systems, which are set to combine in 2013.
The lawyers had to agree on two dates for hearings. It took them two and a half hours to accomplish this. The wheels of justice are like driving a car with square tires - a bouncy slow ride. Meanwhile, early voting is already underway. “I’d be more concerned if it were not going on,” says lawyer Tom Cates of Collierville, one of several lawyers representing the suburbs.
Judge Mays would not stop the election. He told lawyers he needed more information on the constitutional questions. In Tennessee, it is a violation of the state constitution for legislators to approve a law that only affects one county. Suburban lawyers say there are at least two other counties that could use the municipal school law, while those who represent Shelby County Commissioners say the law was written only for Shelby County.
Meanwhile, the election continues. “There have been elections before where the underlying statute was declared unconstitutional after the election was conducted,” says Election Commission lawyer John Ryder. “The actions of the voters are nullified in accordance with the constitution.”
Remove the lawyer language, and he’s saying there have been many cases where election returns are thrown out because a law was declared unconstitutional. So it makes no difference whether 99.99 percent of the voters in Memphis suburbs vote in favor of municipal schools, says Collierville Town Attorney Tom Cates. Judge Samuel Mays will have the final say.
“The Judge has made it very clear,” Cates says, “at any time in this litigation he determines there is a constitutional issue that makes the statutes that he authorized in the election to be unconstitutional, he can stop everything in its tracks.”
The hearing on the constitutional issue is scheduled for September 4th. The court also scheduled a November 6th hearing on whether the municipal school plan will violate the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution by setting up and establishing separate and unequal school systems.