Tennessee Supreme Court Rules Special Election Required To Fill Metro Nashville Mayor's Office

April 10, 2018

The Tennessee Supreme Court held today that Metro Nashville must hold a special election to fill the Office of Mayor. The decision reversed a ruling of the Davidson County Chancery Court that upheld the action of the Davidson County Election Commission (“Commission”) in setting the election to coincide with the August 2, 2018 election. Under state law, the Commission now must set a special election to be held between May 21 and May 25, 2018.

This case came before the Supreme Court after it granted the plaintiff’s motion to assume jurisdiction over the appeal following the trial court’s dismissal of the case. The plaintiff is a mayoral candidate running for the vacant Davidson County Mayor’s Office. The Commission scheduled the mayoral election for August 2, 2018, the date of an already scheduled municipal general election and statewide primary election. A provision of the Metro Charter, however, approved in a 2007 referendum, requires a special election to be held whenever a mayoral vacancy “shall exist more than twelve (12) months prior to the date of the next general metropolitan election.” The central issue in this case is whether the August 2, 2018 election qualifies as a “general metropolitan election” under the Metro Charter as to not require a special election. The Court heard oral arguments in the case on an expedited schedule on April 9, 2018.

In the unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, the Court determined that the Metro Charter was unambiguous in that it purposefully distinguished between a “general election” and a “general metropolitan election.” The Court interpreted the Charter as defining the “general metropolitan election” only to occur on the first Thursday in August of every fourth odd-numbered year, beginning in 1971. The Court held that, because the mayoral vacancy occurred more than twelve months prior to the next general metropolitan election, which is scheduled for August 1, 2019, the Charter requires a special election. Furthermore, the Court determined that, because Tennessee law requires that a special election be held between 75 and 80 days after notification of the vacancy, the Commission is not authorized to set the election for the mayoral vacancy at the same time as the August 2, 2018 election. The case now returns to the Commission to implement the Court’s ruling.

To read the Supreme Court’s opinion in Wallace v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, et al., authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.

Chief Justice Bivins questions the attorney representing Metro Nashville.