Update: On Tuesday afternoon, Judge Donna Scott Davenport announced that she would not run for reelection this summer. See the full story here.
A new bill in the state legislature could result in the removal of Rutherford County’s juvenile court judge. That’s after reporting from WPLN News and ProPublica revealed the justice system there was illegally arresting and jailing children.
Judge Donna Scott Davenport has overseen the juvenile justice system in Rutherford County since 2000. Now, Nashville Sen. Heidi Campbell and co-sponsor Rep. Gloria Johnson have introduced a resolution that could get the ball rolling on ousting Davenport.
“While judges are given judicial discretion to interpret laws, they are not allowed to make up their own laws,” Campbell said.
Sen. Brenda Gilmore, former chair of Tennessee’s Black Caucus, highlighted the racial disparities among arrested and incarcerated children in Rutherford County during a press conference Monday. More recent reporting from WPLN News and ProPublica found that Black children are not only jailed at a disproportionately higher rate, but that the disparity is getting worse.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including Gilmore said they’re concerned that the issues in the county are systemic.
“The people who are in charge have failed the children, and they’re still in charge,” Gilmore said. “So unless something drastically is done, then we expect the same kind of practices to, to continue.”
And the ouster is considered an extreme measure. For it to go forward, it would need to get through committees, and two thirds of members in both houses would need to support Davenport’s removal.
Multiple Democratic lawmakers said Davenport’s removal isn’t a partisan issue. Campbell pointed to investigations requested by members of Congress and the Republican governor, and says she’s hoping for bipartisan support on the resolution.
Republican Representative Tim Rudd filed a similar resolution in 2020 to remove Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle after she ordered increased access to absentee ballots during the August primary elections. That eventually failed, but Lyle has since announced she will not seek reelection this year.
Judge Davenport has said she does plan to run for reelection 2022. But for the first time in decades, she will face a challenger.
WPLN News has reached out to Davenport for comment and has not received a response.