Tennessee Supreme Court
|Tennessee Supreme Court|
|Location:||Jackson, Knoxville, and Nashville, Tennessee|
|Method:||Comm. select., Gov. appt.|
The court generally meets in the cities of Jackson, Knoxville, and Nashville in Tennessee, as required by the Tennessee State Constitution, but it may also meet in other locations when needed. Four of the five current justices on the court were appointed by Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen.
JusticesThe current justices of the court are:
|Justice Cornelia Clark||2005-2022||Gov. Phil Bredesen|
|Justice Gary R. Wade||2006-2022||Gov. Phil Bredesen|
|Chief justice Sharon Lee||2009-2022||Gov. Phil Bredesen|
|Justice Holly Kirby||2014-2016||Gov. Bill Haslam|
|Justice Jeff Bivins||2014-2016||Gov. Bill Haslam|
The current chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court is Sharon Lee. She took over the position on September 1, 2014, from Justice Gary R. Wade. Wade had been appointed to the office in September 2012 to succeed former Justice Janice Holder, the state's first female chief justice. According to the Tennessee State Constitution, the justices of the supreme court select the chief justice.
Justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court are selected via appointment by the governor of Tennessee. The justice, after serving an eight-year term, can then be retained by a retention vote for another term.
A qualified candidate for the Tennessee Supreme Court must meet the basic qualifications as described in the Tennessee Constitution, Article 8-18-101. The person must be at least 35 years old and have been a resident of Tennessee for at least five years. She or he must also be an attorney and must be licensed to practice law in the Tennessee court system.
The court hears appeals of civil and criminal cases from lower state courts, such as the Tennessee Court of Appeals and the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. The Supreme Court may assume jurisdiction over undecided cases in the Court of Appeals or Court of Criminal Appeals when a decision is needed on an emergency basis. The court also has appellate jurisdiction in cases involving state taxes, the right to hold public office, and issues of constitutional law.
- See also: Tennessee judicial elections, 2014
|Gary R. Wade||56.6%|
- See also: 2010 State Supreme Court elections
Sharon Lee faced retention and was retained.
| Tennessee Supreme Court |
2010 General election results
In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Tennessee was given a Campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Tennessee received a score of -0.02. Based on the justices selected, Tennessee was the 23rd most liberal court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.
"Tennessee Plan" litigation
The "Tennessee Plan" has been challenged in court several times. In the case of Higgins v. Dunn (1973), the Tennessee Supreme Court held that retention elections were constitutional, as the constitution did not specify what type of elections the General Assembly had to enact for electing judges. Justice Allison Humphries, in dissent, opined that the supreme court justices approving the constitutionality of the Modified Missouri Plan had, "like Esau, sold their soul for a mess of pottage" and had made the judicial branch subordinate to the legislative branch. The Plan was again challenged in the case of DeLaney v. Thompson (1998). The plaintiffs argued that the process was not an "election" in the sense envisioned by the writers of the state constitution, and that the court in Higgins v. Dunn had rendered a decision due to their interest in the subject matter of the case. DeLaney v. Thompson was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, at which time the whole court was forced to recuse itself. The special Supreme Court appointed by the governor to hear this case, however, refused to rule on the constitutionality of the Plan, and instead remanded the case on a technicality.
Effect of the "Tennessee Plan"
As of 2009, only one member of the Tennessee Supreme Court has ever been removed under the so-called "Tennessee Plan". Former Justice Penny White was removed in 1996 in a campaign reminiscent of that used a few years prior in California against former Chief Justice Rose Bird, and for largely the same reason: White's seeming eagerness to overturn a capital sentence based on personal opposition to the death penalty.
Holder opposes elections
Former Chief Justice Janice Holder said recently that she and her colleagues on the Supreme Court are unanimous in support of maintaining the state’s current system of selecting its appellate court judges. Republican leaders in the state Legislature have argued that the current "Tennessee Plan" violates the state constitution which provides, "The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state." The Plan will be automatically repealed July 1, 2009 if lawmakers fail to renew or modify it during the session. Despite the Plan's constitutionally questionable nature, Holder states:
"This court is not in favor of partisan election in which judges are obligated to raise millions of dollars for campaigns. This court is in favor of the current principles that comprise the Tennessee Plan."
The Code of Judicial Conduct sets forth ethical guidelines and principles for the conduct of judges and judicial candidates in Tennessee. It consists of four overarching canons:
- Canon 1: "A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety."
- Canon 2: "A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently."
- Canon 3: "A judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office."
- Canon 4: "A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary." 
In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Tennessee earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.
History of the court
The Tennessee Constitution of 1870 requires the court of five justices to meet in Knoxville, Nashville, and Jackson to be equitable. At least one justice, but no more than two justices must be from three sections of the state. East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee were meant to represent all citizens of the state and to prevent regional bias. The original constitution of Tennessee described the judicial selection. In this, the justices were elected by the General Assembly and held lifetime tenures. The Constitution was amended in 1853 to limit judicial terms to eight years and the election was shifted from the General Assembly to the people. In 1971, this was changed at the appellate level under the "Modified Missouri Plan." Justices would be subjected to a "Yes/No" retention vote at the end of the term. Because there are no elections to join the court, all appointments are made by the Governor of the state. This is called the "Tennessee Plan."
- News: Former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice A.A. Birch died at 78, August 31, 2011
- News: Tennessee Supreme Court rules against Nissan North America in workers compensation case, August 15, 2011
- News: Tennessee state courts adopt new ethics code, January 13, 2011
- TN Courts.gov, "Tennessee State Courts System"
- TN Courts.gov, "Supreme Court Justices Information and Biographies"
- TN.gov, "Tennessee Blue Book, Supreme Court Justices"
- American Judicature Society, "Judicial selection in the States: Tennessee," archived September 11, 2014
- Bradley Elections.com, "Qualifications for Elected Offices"
- Knoxville News Sentinel, "Tennessee Supreme Court elects Lee chief justice," August 14, 2014 (dead link)
- Bradley County Election Commission, "Bradley Elections: Tennessee Qualifications," accessed September 2, 2014
- TN Courts.gov, "Annual Statistical Reports," accessed September 2, 2014 See "Cases for Decision"
- Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
- Robert L. Delaney vs. Brook Thompson, 01S01-9808-CH-00144 (Tenn. 1998).
- The Commercial Appeal, "State Supreme Court wants to keep retention system," September 3, 2008
- TN Courts.gov, "Rule 10: Code of Judicial Conduct," accessed May 15, 2014
- Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
|Former||William Barker • Janice Holder • William Koch • Martha Daughtrey • Horace Harmon Lurton • Paul Summers •|