The Brief Case #2: Titans Stadium Tab Grows While The Tennessean Seeks A Swiftie Reporter
Plus, courts block another attempt to enforce the state's anti-drag law, free speech at the University of Tennessee, and a clickbait poll from Fox Nashville.
I haven’t had as much time to devote to writing lately. But as I work on more long-form pieces, I am compiling some quick thoughts on a few news items that have caught my eye recently.
The Titans Stadium Tab Keeps Growing for Taxpayers
At The Tennessee Lookout, Adam Friedman reports on how bond documents from the Titans stadium deal show that taxpayers will be responsible for paying around $1.1 billion in interest payments:
Metro Nashville issued $705.4 million in bonds for the stadium, estimating they’ll pay $837.6 million in interest over 30 years. The state of Tennessee issued $452.7 million in bonds over 20 years, expecting to pay $230.2 million in interest.
The bond issuances were the final step in the deal to build a new NFL stadium for the Tennessee Titans, which state lawmakers approved in 2022 and the Metro Nashville Council cleared in April.
The stadium deal, with interest, will cost taxpayers nearly $2.3 billion.
Meanwhile, the team’s value has increased by 26 percent to $4.4 billion. It’s likely that the cost to taxpayers will continue to grow over time, demonstrating once again how stadium deals socialize the costs and privatize the gains for wealthy team owners.
The Tennessean Is Hiring A Taylor Swift Reporter
No, that’s not a joke. The Tennessean and USA Today, both owned by Gannett, are hiring a Taylor Swift reporter. Last December, Gannett laid off 6 percent or over 200 employees. Those layoffs came soon after another round of cuts that took place in August, where Gannett eliminated about 400 jobs. In May 2023, the Poynter Institute reported about a “mass exodus among top leadership” in the Gannett network after a “financial freefall.”
As numerous people have pointed out online, this hiring announcement (which also included a Beyonce reporter) is not a great look for the news network. Memphis is apparently still without an investigative reporter.
I’m not faulting Gannett/The Tennessean for wanting to make money, and these new beats will likely drive new subscriptions to the paper, which is the name of the game. But at a certain point, it’s necessary to question whether this is the right business move for the publication long term. People are noticing that the best reporting about the city is not at The Tennessean but at alternative outlets like the Nashville Scene, the Tennessee Lookout, and The Center Square.
While I’m glad to see certain beats like a First Amendment reporter, other areas of coverage have been absolutely dreadful — specifically, The Tennessean’s failure to properly scrutinize and investigate a massive deal for the new Titan’s stadium.
U.S. District Court Halts Blount County’s Attempts to Enforce Drag Ban
Earlier this month, a judge for the U.S. District Court of Eastern Tennessee enjoined a Blount County prosecutor from enforcing the state’s ban on drag performances, which was struck down by another District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker in Friends of Georges, Inc. v. Mulroy in June.
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti told prosecutors around the state that the Friends of Georges, Inc. decision only applied to the Memphis area, so Blount County District Attorney Ryan Desmond contended that he could shut down any drag performances at the county’s Pride events.
The ACLU of Tennessee sued Desmond, and U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer blocked the Blount County prosecutor from enforcing the law. Here are some key excerpts from his order:
Lastly, as to the fourth and final factor, District Attorney Desmond contends that the record fails to show that he refused to disavow enforcement of the Act because “Plaintiffs have not identified their future intended speech with any specificity, so there is no future action to disavow enforcement against.” [Def.’s Resp. at 10]. But again, Plaintiffs have alleged that Mr. Lovegood is a drag artist, has been performing in drag for more than three years, and intends to perform at Blount Pride’s upcoming festival. District Attorney Desmond cannot seriously argue that Mr. Lovegood’s upcoming musical performance is not speech under the aegis of the First Amendment. See ETW Corp. v. Jireh Publ’g, Inc., 332 F.3d 915, 924 (6th Cir. 2003) (“The protection of the First Amendment is not limited to written or spoken words, but includes other mediums of expression, including music, pictures, films, photographs, paintings, drawings, engravings, prints, and sculptures.” (quoting Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Group of Boston, 515 U.S. 557, 569 (1995))). The record therefore satisfies the fourth factor, and because three of the four factors are present in the record, Plaintiffs have standing. See Cameron, 995 F.3d at 550 (stating that standing requires only “some combination” of the factors to be present).
[ . . . ]
Judge Parker’s seventy-page opinion is well-written, scrupulously researched, and highly persuasive. The Court, based on the parties arguments at this juncture in the proceedings, sees no reason to “break new ground” on the constitutional issues that Plaintiffs raise in their complaint when Judge Parker, in his well-reasoned opinion, has already “provide[d] an adequate basis for [a] decision.” Greater New Orleans Broad. Ass’n, Inc. v. United States, 527 U.S. 173, 184 (1999); see Walker v. Floyd County, Ind., 4:07-cv-14-SEB-WGH, 2009 WL 2222886, at *1 (S.D. Ind. July 22, 2009) (“We commonly find it helpful to consider the rulings of our sister courts when those rulings address issues nearly identical to issues pending before this Court; and, while they clearly carry no precedential value, such determinations can offer persuasive reasoning.”). The Court is likely to adopt Judge Parker’s reasoning in addressing the constitutional questions that Plaintiffs raise in their complaint, and Plaintiffs, in relying on Friends of Georges, have therefore demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits. [Emphasis mine.]
The court neglected to opine on the question of whether the Friends of George’s, Inc decision applies to the entire state and instead stayed the case until the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals can rule on the Friends of George’s case.
Read my piece here on why the First Amendment should protect drag performances.
University of Tennessee Students Say Campus Committed to Free Expression
At the Tennessee Lookout, Benjamin Pounds reports on results from a state-mandated survey about University of Tennessee students’ beliefs about free speech on campus:
The 2023 Campus Climate Survey, published by UT before the fall semester, shows 92% of UT students said their campuses were committed to free expression, and 89% felt comfortable expressing themselves. Eight out of 10 UT students said they found different viewpoints on their campuses. Only 5% said they were not comfortable sharing opinions in their classrooms because it would affect their evaluations.
Contrary to the popular narrative, the survey found that liberal students at UT were the least likely to feel comfortable expressing their views and didn’t agree that their institution was committed to free speech.
Fox Nashville Poll: Should Sexually Explicit Content Be Available in Elementary School Libraries?
Not one serious person is making this argument.
No one opposes curriculum/book bans because they want sexually explicit material in schools. The concern has always been that these statutes and rules are so vague and overly broad that works some may view as "controversial" (but not explicit) may be tossed aside in the moral panic. These laws are also duplicative because we already have obscenity laws that prohibit the distribution of obscene materials to children.
And while it's true that parents can still buy books that have been removed from schools for their kids, that's not the point. We are not teaching our kids great lessons about free speech. Overly broad and vague book bans teach kids that the state should have the power to decide what ideas are acceptable. Worse, certain subjects we may want kids to learn about could be kept further out of reach when teachers/admins remove material out of an abundance of caution. I explain the problems with these laws here.
The bottom line is that Fox Nashville is sensationalizing the issue like so many intellectually dishonest politicians and talking heads.
Lawsuit Over Tennessee House’s Sign Ban Dismissed
On Thursday, Chancellor Anne Martin issued an order to dismiss the ACLU of Tennessee's lawsuit against the Tennessee Legislature, which was filed over the removal of protestors who were holding up small signs during committee hearings in violation of the House's rules for the special session. The case was dismissed at the request of both parties, although as Anita Wadhwani reports, the ACLU expects to file a motion to recover attorney fees and costs from the state.
I recently published an updated version of my piece on whether the First Amendment applies in this case at The Tennessee Lookout in light of case developments that occurred after the first version was published. While this case is over, I expect the issue will emerge again in future sessions if House Republicans continue their attempts to stifle dissent.
Lonnie Lee Hood at The Tennessee Lookout: A recent case in Franklin exposes gaps in policies pertaining to public records
Paul Sherman on Twitter: “Refusal to recite the pledge has been protected for 80 years and is one of the most famous First Amendment precedents of all time, yet schools routinely punish kids for it. The truth is that lots of government officials simply do not care what is and is not constitutional.”
Nashville Business Journal: Murfreesboro to consider baseball stadium proposal
Christian Britischgi at Reason: Environmentalists have managed to reverse America's leading "yes in my backyard" (YIMBY) success story in Minnesota
Scott Lincicome on Twitter: “The US is on course to complete construction on over 460,000 new apartment units in 2023 — the highest figure on record"
Kyle Cheney on Twitter: “A federal judge has enjoined Texas and Gov Greg Abbott from constructing new buoy/blockades in the Rio Grande and to remove the existing ones by Sept. 15.”
Ilya Somin on Twitter: “The anniversary of 9/11 is a good time to remember we still need to pass an Afghan Adjustment Act giving permanent refuge to Afghan refugees who came here fleeing the Taliban, including many who aided US forces.”
That’s all for now. Be sure to check out and read all of the full pieces discussed above.