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From left, Parker Polidor, Allison Polidor, Erica Bowton and Maryam Abolfazli outside a Davidson County courtroom at an Aug. 28, 2023, hearing over whether signs are allowed in the Tennessee Legislature. Allison Polidor, Bowton and Abolfazli are plaintiffs in the suit. // Photo by John Partipilo

Tennessee seeks to dismiss challenge to suit over the banning of gun violence protest signs


By Anita Wadhwani, Tennessee Lookout

State lawyers are seeking to dismiss a legal challenge to a Tennessee House of Representatives rule banning protest signs at the Legislature, arguing that since the rules applied only to a special session that has now ended the case is moot.

“The special session has now adjourned,” the motion, filed Wednesday in Davidson County Chancery Court, said. “And the procedural rules adopted by the House for the special session —including the Sign Regulation that Plaintiffs ask this Court to declare unconstitutional and enjoin — are no longer in effect.”

The lawsuit was filed last week by the ACLU of Tennessee, representing three women who were escorted out of a legislative subcommittee for carrying paper signs protesting gun violence.

The ejection of the women by Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers came on the second day of a specially called legislative session to address public safety after a mass shooting claimed the lives of three children and three adults at The Covenant School in Nashville.

At the outset of the special session, GOP House leaders adopted rules barring the display of signs on the floor of the House, or in any of its committee rooms. The Tennessee Senate did not adopt similar rules.

Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin immediately granted a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the rule last week.

Then, on Monday in front of a packed courtroom, Martin heard arguments from lawyers representing the defendants — among them House Speaker Cameron Sexton — that the House had the authority to enact rules to preserve decorum and order and the court’s intervention violated the separation-of-powers doctrine. ACLU attorney Stella Yarbro countered the rules were an unreasonable limit on free speech.

Martin again sided with the ACLU, issuing a temporary injunction that continued to allow signs through the end of the special session. In the normal course of a lawsuit, the next step would be a full trial and a final order.

An ACLU representative was not immediately available to discuss whether the organization would oppose the dismissal of the case.



Click case file to see full motion.


Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.

Now more than ever, tough and fair journalism is important. The Tennessee Lookout is your watchdog, telling the stories of politics and policy that affect the people of the Volunteer State.

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