NASHVILLE (CN) – The Midwest director for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s civil rights organization, National Action Network, claims Memphis and Tennessee officials denied him access to public records because he is not a citizen of Tennessee. Richard Jones says the Tennessee Public Records Act unconstitutionally denies out-of-state residents access to public records.
The Tennessee Public Records Act was enacted in 1957 and caught the interest of the American Civil Liberties Union and other public-interest groups in 2007.
“As early as January 2007, ACLU-TN has been monitoring denial of access to Tennessee Open Records on the basis of the Tennessee citizenship requirement,” according to the complaint. “Since that time, ACLU-TN has been made aware of numerous situations where both in-state and out-of-state residents have been denied Tennessee Open Records because they could not (or would not) prove that the requesting party was a citizen of the State of Tennessee.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
Jones says he emailed a request for a copy of a government contract concerning State Advocacy and State Lobbying Services to the Memphis Public Record Coordinator.
Both the coordinator and Senior Assistant City Attorney Jill Madajczky denied his request, based on the Tennessee Public Records Act, stating: “This office denies all public records requests from any individual or entity outside of the State of Tennessee.”
Jones is a resident of Ohio. He says he is being discriminated against in violation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause and Commerce Clause.
“The Tennessee Public Records Act that limits access to public records to only ‘citizens of Tennessee’ deprives Richard Jones from his ability to engage in the common calling as a civil rights advocate,” the complaint states.
In addition to being unconstitutional, Jones says, the act serves no substantial purpose.
“If relief is not granted in the present litigation, records will continue to be withheld from journalists, authors, business people and concerned citizens who have an interest in Tennessee events in violation of their constitutional rights,” the complaint states.
Sharpton founded the National Action Network in 1991 as a civil rights group.
Jones sued Gov. Phil Bredesen, the Tennessee Attorney General and other officials for violating of the Privileges and Immunities Clause and Commerce Clause. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.
He is represented by Tricia Herzfeld and Edmund Schmidt III of Nashville.