Levi Ismail / NewsChannel 5 Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee is facing a lawsuit over Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s decision to let counties issue certain orders to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly citing their ability to require people to wear masks.
The group Citizens for Limited Government and Constitutional Integrity, also known as Tennessee Stands, and two individuals filed the lawsuit Monday in Davidson County Chancery Court.
The lawsuit claims a state law dealing with the governor’s powers during an emergency violates sections of the Tennessee Constitution, including provisions about the separation of powers.
Gary Humble founded Tennessee Stands who are the plaintiffs in this case and he says the governor is writing his own laws into effect, which is not his responsibility, but rather the General Assembly.
“You start to look around and say wait a minute, is this constitutional? Can the governor actually make these type of executive orders? So we took a look in the constitution and it certainly seems to me the constitution explicitly gives the governor certain powers,” Humble said.
Whether it be citations written for transpotainment vehicles or the mask mandate, Humble says rules like these have been established without due process.
“If our General Assembly went into special session and they passed a law making a statewide mandate, we would be having an entirely different conversation right now. Perhaps we wouldn’t be having a conversation,”Humble said.
With Metro Public Health for example, Humble and his attorney Gary Blackburn say the department is writing citations and creating laws from powers given to them unlawfully by Governor Lee’s executive order 38 signed on May 22nd.
Blackburn says these citations were written without any indication that people could have their day in court to fight them.
“We’re not debating masks, we’re not debating COVID-19. We’re simply saying we have a constitution and we’d like for it to be followed by our government,” Humble said.
Blackburn represents this lawsuit and another involving transpotainment business owners who say they now want to consolidate both complaints.
“You come in and close a man or woman’s business down with no opportunity to be heard and no burden of proof on the government, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work here,” said Blackburn.
Governor Lee addressed the matter in a press conference on Tuesday acknowledging that these are unprecedented times for the state, but still maintaining he is well within his rights.
“We’re worked really heard to make sure what we do goes with the framework of the constitution,” Lee said.
Lee also notes he has the support of the state AG’s office, the US AG’s office as well as opinions from a former Supreme Court justice.
If the lawsuit does succeed and a judge says that some or all of the executive orders issued by Lee are unconstitutional, they could void those orders and restrain Lee’s office from issuing similar executive actions in the future.
Blackburn says they expect to hear back on if this latest lawsuit can be consolidated with one already pending involving the transpotainment industry.