Tennessee congressional residency rule becomes law without Gov. Lee's signature

The bill is already the subject of a federal lawsuit from three Tennessee residents in the 5th Congressional District.
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Morgan Ortagus, former U.S. Department Of State Spokesperson,
Morgan Ortagus, former U.S. Department Of State Spokesperson,
(Riccardo Savi / Getty Images)

A bill that would require congressional candidates in Tennessee to live in the state for three years before running in a primary for a federal seat will become law without the signature of Gov. Bill Lee.

The Republican governor returned it with no signature Wednesday.

"We feel the voters are best able to determine who should represent them in Congress," said Casey Black, spokeswoman for Gov. Lee.

The bill is already the subject of a federal lawsuit from three Tennessee residents in the 5th Congressional District. They filed the lawsuit on behalf of U.S. House of Representatives candidate Morgan Ortagus, who would be disqualified from running in the Republican primary for the redrawn district.

Senate Bill 2616 passed the Senate on Feb. 28, and the House withdrew an amendment and passed the bill before sending it to Gov. Lee on April 1.

Ortagus, backed by former President Donald Trump, is the former spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State. The 5th Congressional District seat is opening up after current U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, said he will not run in the redrawn district.

The lawsuit claims states do not have the constitutional right to add qualifications for congressional candidates, citing a passage in the U.S. Constitution that states each house of the U.S. Congress will be the judge of qualifications for its members.

The lawsuit also cites the Constitution as saying the only qualifications are for the representative to be 25, a U.S. citizen for seven years and "when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen."

Under the new law, candidates such as Ortagus can run as an independent in the general election but cannot run in the Republican or Democratic primaries.