In March 2017, the Tennessee General Assembly and state legislators filed a lawsuit claiming that the federal govrnment was an effort to block refugee resettlement in the state of Tennessee under the notion that the federal refugee resettlement program violates the state's sovereignty.

The Tennessee attorney general declined to file the suit, concluding that it would likely lose in the court, so state legislators hired the Thomas More Law Center, a known anti-Muslim organization, to represent them.

One June 2, 2017, ACLU-TN and the ACLU Immigrant's Rights Project (ACLU-IRP_ filed a motion to intervene in the case and a motion to dismiss Tennessee's lawsuit, on behalf of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), Nashville International Center for Empowerment, Inc., and Bridge Refugee Services, Inc.

On March 19, 2018, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit on multiple grounds, including the Tennessee General Assembly's lack of standing to bring the lawsuit and the state's failure to show that refugee resettlement in Tennessee violates the U.S. Constitution.

State legislators then appealed the case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2018. On October 19, 2018, ACLU-TN and ACLU-IRP filed an amicus brief on behalf of our clients.

On July 24, 2019, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the lawsuit on the grounds that the Tennessee General Assembly lacked standing.

The plaintiffs filed a petition seek an en banc hearing of the appeal by the entire Sixth Circuit, which was denied. Plaintiffs then sought review from the U.S. Supreme Court, but their petition was denied.


Tennessee Immigrant Refugee Rights Coalition, Nashville International Center for Empowerment, Inc., Bridge Refugee Services, Inc.


State of Tennessee, Tennessee General Assembly, Sen. John Stevens, Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver


United States Department of State, Rex Tillerson, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Thomas E. Price, Office of Refugee Resettlement, Ken Tota


ACLU-TN: Thomas H. Castelli

ACLU-IRP: Cody H. Wofsy, Omar C. Jadwat

Date filed

June 2, 2017


United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee



Case number

Case No. 1:17-cv-01040-STA-egb