Sen. Mark Norris: Tennessee’s refugee lawsuit is effort to clear the air

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said the ultimate goal of Tennessee’s lawsuit against the federal government, which he hopes to discuss with President Donald Trump when he visits on Wednesday, is to clear the air.

“I’d like to remove the aspersions that have been cast over the refugee resettlement program and also clarify our roles and responsibilities under the state constitution, which says we are the lawful appropriators,” Norris, R-Collierville, told the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee on Monday. “In this case we sort of feel like the federal government has a gun to our heads and they’re forcing us to expend funds that have not been lawfully appropriated.”

Norris said even though the state filed the lawsuit against the Trump administration it should not be viewed as an affront to the president.

“We’re supportive, by and large, of what President Trump is doing in the refugee and immigration arena, and we suspect that he will support the philosophy behind our lawsuit,” the West Tennessee Republican said.

Norris’ remarks come after the state became the first in the nation to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement on the grounds of violating the 10th Amendment.

The 10th Amendment says the federal government possesses only the powers delegated to it by the U.S. Constitution and that all other powers are reserved for the states.

The charge that the federal government is not complying with the Refugee Act of 1980, based on the 10th Amendment, makes Tennessee’s lawsuit the first of its kind. Other states have sued the federal government over refugee resettlement but on different legal grounds.

Norris said despite the fact that the state opted out of administering the refugee resettlement program during Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, the state has continued to not only participate but also allocate funds.

“We received a directive in the fall of 2015 from the federal government that said you better participate because if you don’t we will withhold other federal funds,” Norris said. “We feel like that’s commandeering or forcing us to participate in a program that a previous governor took us out of.”

Norris said the Thomas More Law Center, which is leading the lawsuit on behalf of the state, deemed the federal court in the western district of Tennessee to be the appropriate venue given that Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, is a West Tennessee resident. Stevens and Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, were named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“Probably any federal court in Tennessee would’ve been suitable,” Norris said. “The district court of D.C. would also have worked, but it was a flip of the coin.”

Norris said despite the fact that he was among the leading proponents of the resolution ordering the lawsuit that passed through the legislature last year, he is preoccupied with other matters, including the state’s upcoming budget, and therefore didn’t want to be added to the lawsuit.