Tennessee Stands, a political activist group based in Williamson County, filed a lawsuit against Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson on Monday, asking the court to rule the mayor’s mask mandate as void and unconstitutional and to restrain enforcement of the mandate.
“In light of the obvious issues and questions surrounding the constitutionality of these orders, Mayor Rogers Anderson still chose to execute a county-wide mask mandate,” a Tennessee Stands representative wrote on its Facebook page. “He has exceeded his authority as a county mayor extended to him by the people of Williamson County.”
The organization, led by Williamson County resident Gary Humble and others, also filed a lawsuit in August against Gov. Bill Lee concerning his executive orders, deeming his use of emergency powers as unconstitutional. The first lawsuit filed against the governor was dismissed by the court, but the organization also intervened in another similar lawsuit against the governor that is ongoing.
Additionally, Recall Williamson, a sister organization of Tennessee Stands run by many of the same people, filed a lawsuit against Williamson County Schools in September concerning the district’s on-campus mask requirement and amended it last month to include the Franklin Special School District.
History of county mask mandate
On July 3, Lee signed Executive Order 54, requiring county mayors to require cloth face coverings in public spaces where social distancing is not possible. He has continued to renew that order, and it now remains active through Dec. 29.
Per the governor’s order, Anderson declared a mask mandate in Williamson County effective from July 7 through Aug. 29. While the governor continued to allow county mayors to implement such a mandate, Anderson allowed the order to expire on Aug. 30 until he reinstated the mandate on Oct. 24, extending its effective date through Dec. 29.
Anderson said upon announcing the reinstatement that the issue of wearing masks has become “way too political,” in his opinion.
“No one likes the fact that it is necessary to reinstitute a mask mandate in our county. Unfortunately, the numbers can’t be ignored,” he said. “I appreciate the governor giving us the tools to address this issue without forcing a one-size-fits-all statewide order. I believe local government is best positioned to make these decisions, even when difficult. At the end of the day, I believe that this order is in the best interest of our community.”
Lawsuit targets delegation of power
Tennessee Stands takes issue with the delegated authority. On Nov. 2, the organization posted on social media asking for donations to file the lawsuit against Anderson. The $15,000 goal was funded in less than 24 hours.
In the complaint against the mayor filed at the Williamson County Chancery Court this week, the plaintiff (Tennessee Stands and its respective founders) quotes British author and theologian C. S. Lewis: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” Lewis wrote this in the context of exploring the result of removing the objectives of justice and retribution when determining criminal punishment.
Tennessee Stands argues the mayor’s mandate is unconstitutional and should be considered void, and enforcement should be restrained. The complaint doesn’t so much attack the mayor as it does the governor, saying Lee does not have the power to grant county mayors authority because “the General Assembly did not grant to the governor the power, right or authority to further delegate to local public officials the broad powers conferred in (Tennessee Code Annotated Section 58-2-107).”
The section of TCA granting the governor emergency management power, including in cases of disease outbreaks and epidemics (per TCA 58-2-101), allows the governor to “assume direct operational control over all or any part of the emergency management functions within this state” and to “delegate emergency responsibilities to the officers and agencies of the state and of the political subdivisions thereof” as the governor deems necessary.
Tennessee Stands also claims the governor’s use of emergency powers is “in contravention” of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, which in Section 2 of Article II outlines the separation of powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state government.
The complaint then exhibits the stories of several Williamson County residents who believe they have suffered and continue to suffer “distinct, palpable and specialized injuries that are real and not speculative” — the owners of C. C. Styles salon and Ecco Salon in Franklin who believe they have suffered economic loss due to the mask mandate, the owner of Concordia Arts Academy in Thompson’s Station who believes she has experienced a “significant decline” in clientele due to the mandate and a resident who was asked to leave Planet Fitness due to the fact that he wasn’t wearing a mask and has “been unable to exercise his (paid-for) privileges for fear of criminal arrest and prosecution.”
The mayor’s office has not yet filed a response to the suit.
For more information on Tennessee Stands, visit TennesseeStands.org.