March 19, 2018

CONTACT: ACLU-TN Communications, 615-320-7142

JACKSON, Tenn. — A federal judge today dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of Tennessee in an effort to block refugee resettlement in the state.

State lawmakers who oppose refugee resettlement sued the federal government last year, contending that the federal refugee resettlement program improperly impinges on state sovereignty.

The 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.

The ACLU of Tennessee and the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition had voiced opposition to the legislation that enabled the legislature to file the lawsuit.

The Tennessee attorney general declined to file the suit, concluding that it would likely lose in court, so state legislators hired an outside firm to file it.

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Tennessee filed a motion to intervene in the state’s lawsuit in order to defend refugee resettlement in Tennessee. The ACLU filed this motion on behalf of groups serving Tennessee refugees, including the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Bridge Refugee Services Inc., and the Nashville International Center for Empowerment. The groups also filed legal arguments explaining why the Tennessee General Assembly’s lawsuit should be thrown out.

The federal judge dismissed Tennessee’s lawsuit against the federal government, which the court ruled rendered the ACLU's motion to intervene moot.

Organizational leaders had the following reactions to the dismissal of the lawsuit:

Hedy Weinberg, executive director, ACLU of Tennessee
“We are gratified that the court has dismissed state lawmakers’ cruel attempt to stop refugee resettlement in Tennessee. This lawsuit was driven by fear-mongering and a discriminatory animus toward Muslims – and we are better than that in Tennessee. The majority of Tennesseans believe in helping those fleeing violence and terror to protect their families. This ruling helps ensure that the values of fair treatment, equality, and compassion for our neighbors that most Tennesseans embrace carry the day.”

Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
“For years, a handful of legislators have led a quixotic campaign to harm refugees and end resettlement to the state. Hopefully the dismissal of this shameful lawsuit will put these efforts to rest, allowing lawmakers to instead focus on real issues and solutions that strengthen our communities. Today's ruling is a victory for our members, for refugee families, and for the majority of Tennesseans whose faith and values call them to welcome families fleeing violence and war.”

The court’s order of dismissal can be found here:

The ACLU’s motion to intervene can be found here:

The ACLU’s motion to dismiss the state’s lawsuit can be found here: