Tennessee lawmakers appeal refugee resettlement decision

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers are appealing a judge’s dismissal of their lawsuit against the federal government over the refugee resettlement program.

The Thomas More Law Center, which says it’s working for free on behalf of the Republican-led General Assembly, filed a notice of appeal Thursday to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The federal lawsuit, filed in western Tennessee in March 2017, argued the refugee program is forcing the state to spend money on additional services, including health care and education.

Tennessee officially stopped participating in the refugee program in 2008.

But Catholic Charities of Tennessee administers a program under a law that says, if a state withdraws, the federal government can pick a nonprofit to administer federal money for cash and medical assistance and social services to eligible refugees.

A district judge ruled this March that it’s speculative for Tennessee to contend it might lose $7 billion annually in federal Medicaid money if it refuses to spend state money on refugee services through Medicaid.

The case includes no allegation that the federal government has made a threat to withhold the money, the judge added.

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, contended Thursday that the judge’s decision conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court opinions about state sovereignty against federal government overreach.

“This case involves critical constitutional issues regarding the appropriate balance between the powers of the federal government and the states,” Thompson said in a news release.

The lawsuit didn’t have the backing of state Attorney General Herbert Slatery or Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee criticized the decision by lawmakers to appeal, calling it political.

“There is no reason to attack vulnerable families fleeing from terrorism — other than politicians’ personal animus toward Muslims,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said in a news release.