Before deciding if the special district legislation is constitutional, we ought to think about why the Tennessee constitution (Article XI, Section 9) bars any state law concerning the affairs of a particular county or municipality. This constitutional provision prevents the state legislature from micromanaging the affairs of a locality and limits the legislature to matters of more general concern to the state. The reason for doing so goes the heart of representative government and democratic accountability.
The majority in the state legislature is properly democratic and accountable only when it considers bills that affect the state generally or, at least, a large portion of the population. Then each or most of the representatives would be forced to think seriously about the bill’s effects on their own constituents, and they could be held directly accountable by those affected by the law.
On the other hand, a large majority of state representatives legislating for a particular locality would be legislating for a population that had no control over the outcome and could not hold that majority accountable for the outcome. That is a form of despotism. The Tennessee constitution, therefore, tries to protect local democracy and interests against a majority in the state legislature that does not represent its interests.
By Richard Alley
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