Tennessee judges side with Nashville in fight over fairgrounds speedway

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A newly enacted Tennessee law designed to lower the threshold needed for Nashville leaders to approve improvements to its fairgrounds speedway violates the state's constitution and cannot be enforced, a three-judge panel has ruled.

Thursday's unanimous ruling is the latest development in the ongoing tension between left-leaning Nashville and the GOP-dominated General Assembly, where multiple legal challenges have been filed over Republican-led efforts to undermine the city's authority.

The judges found that the statute targeting the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway violated the Tennessee Constitution’s “home rule,” which says the Legislature can’t pass measures singling out individual counties without local support. This means the law cannot be implemented.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed off on the law earlier this year after GOP lawmakers advanced the proposal over the objections of Democrats who represent Nashville. The law dictated that Nashville and any other similar sized city needed just a simple majority to make any demolition on its fairgrounds as long as the facilities would be used for “substantially the same use” before and after the improvements.

The change to lower the approval threshold came as Bristol Motor Speedway is pushing the city to sign off on a major renovation of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway with the goal of eventually bringing a NASCAR race to the stadium.

Currently, Nashville's charter requires that such improvements require a supermajority. While the law didn't specifically single out Music City, no other municipality fell within the statute's limits.

The Tennessee Attorney General's office had argued that the law could be applied statewide, making it exempt from requiring local buy-in as required under the state constitution. However, the three-judge panel disagreed.

“Clearly, the General Assembly may pass laws that are local in form and effect. But the Tennessee Constitution commands that if it does, the legislation must include a provision for local approval,” the judges wrote. “(The law) does not include a local approval provision.”

A spokesperson for the attorney general did not respond to an email request for comment.

The decision is one of several legal battles that have been swirling in state courts ever since the Republican-dominant Legislature enacted several proposals targeting Nashville after city leaders spiked a proposal to host the 2024 Republican National Convention last year.

Angered that the Metro Council refused to entertain hosting the prominent GOP event, Republicans advanced proposals that cut the Democratic-leaning city’s metro council in half and approved plans for the state to make enough appointments to control Nashville's airport authority — which manages, operates, finances and maintains the international airport and a smaller one in the city.

Nashville leaders have since challenged the statutes and those lawsuits remain ongoing.

Kimberlee Kruesi, The Associated Press