Nashville sues over law letting Tennessee pick most of city’s airport board

Nashville officials filed a lawsuit Monday over a new Tennessee law that lets state leaders pick the majority of board members for the city’s international airport — one of several bills passed by Republican lawmakers this year that targeted the left-leaning city.

The city’s lawsuit argues that the overhaul of Nashville International Airport’s board violates the Tennessee Constitution’s home rule and equal protection clauses by handing six combined appointments on an eight-member panel to the governor and House and Senate speakers.

The final two people are left to Nashville’s mayor. Previously, the mayor picked all of the seven-person Metro Nashville Airport Authority, and metro council members confirmed them.

The city contends that Tennessee’s home rule protections prevent the state’s airport board takeover without either a local referendum or a two-thirds vote of the metro council. The lawsuit argues that the change also violates the constitution by treating Nashville’s airport board “differently than any other metropolitan airport authority in the State for no rational purpose.”

The lawsuit also cites a policy by the Federal Aviation Administration, which says the agency won’t take action on a proposed change of operating authority while an airport’s operator is contesting the governance change.

In support of the law, Republican lawmakers have contended that the state should have more say over the booming airport because of its regional impact.

“This isn’t just about the number of travelers or visitors; it’s also for economic recruitment interest for all of middle Tennessee,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton said in a statement Monday. “BNA is a great asset for our state, and the sharing of appointments will only enhance it.”

Elizabeth Lane, a spokesperson for the Tennessee attorney general’s office, said Monday that the “plaintiffs have not yet served the lawsuit, but if and when they do we will review and respond accordingly.”

Already, a panel of judges has blocked another state effort that takes aim at Nashville by requiring its metro council to be cut in half, from 40 to 20 members. The ruling allowed the council to remain at 40 members for now. Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said the change would not take effect before the 2027 election.

Additionally, the city has sued after lawmakers approved a law that lowers the number of Nashville metro council votes needed to approve an upgraded racetrack aimed at attracting another NASCAR race to the area.

Leaders from the left-leaning city and conservative state have clashed in policy-making for years. The fight bubbled over this year with a flurry of new state laws after Nashville’s metro council blocked the the 2024 Republican National Convention from coming to the Music City.

Lawmakers also approved legislation to gut Tennessee’s community oversight boards and replace those panels with review committees that have no power to investigate police misconduct allegations. That includes the board in Nashville, which was approved by local voters. So far, that law has not been challenged by the city.

Lawmakers also voted to let state officials select six of the 13 members on the city’s board overseeing professional sports facilities. Meanwhile, a Republican bill that would have renamed a portion of Nashville’s Rep. John Lewis Way to Trump Boulevard ultimately did not pass.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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