Tennessee Supreme Court
|Tennessee Supreme Court|
|Location:||Jackson, Knoxville, and Nashville, Tennessee|
|Method:||Comm. select., Gov. appt.|
The court is composed of five justices who serve for renewable eight-year terms. They are appointed to the court and face a retention election at the end of each such term. At present, three of the court's five justices are women, making the Tennessee Supreme Court one of three state supreme courts where women are in the majority.
The court generally meets in Jackson, Knoxville, and Nashville. Four of the five current justices on the court were appointed by one governor, Democrat Phil Bredesen.
JusticesThe current justices of the court are:
|Justice Cornelia Clark||2005-2014||Democratic|
|Justice Janice Holder||1996-2014|
|Justice William Koch||2007-2016|
|Chief Justice Gary R. Wade||2006-2016||Gov. Phil Bredesen|
|Justice Sharon Lee||2009-2018|
|Judge Paul Summers||2013-2017|
The chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court is Janice Holder. Holder is the state's first female chief justice. According to the Tennessee Constitution, the justices of the Supreme Court select the Chief Justice. Justice Holder is from Memphis, Tennessee. Holder, a former Shelby County Circuit Court judge, was appointed in 1996 to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Don Sundquist and was retained in a yes/no referendum in 1998. Again in 2006 she won a retention election for a full eight-year term. Holder replaced William M. Barker, who announced in April of 2008 that he would retire effective September 1, 2008. According to fellow Justice Gary R. Wade in a statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Barker told his fellow justices two years ago that he would retire soon, and the justices then and there voted to have Holder replace Barker upon his retirement.
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 has appellate jurisdiction in cases involving state taxes, the right to hold public office, and issues of constitutional law.
Justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court are selected via appointment by the Governor. The justice, after serving an eight year term, must go to a retention vote.
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. He must also be an attorney and must be licensed to practice law in the Tennessee court system.
|Fiscal year||Complaints opened||Dispositions||Pending complaints at year’s end|
"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
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."
History of the court
|Tennessee Supreme Court justices, (seated) Chief Justice Janice Holder and standing (left to right) Justice Cornelia Clark, Justice William Koch, and Justices Gary Wade and Sharon Lee.|
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: Tennessee state courts adopt new ethics code, January 13, 2011
- 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
- Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts Official Site
- Wikipedia: Tennessee Supreme Court
- Judicial selection in the States: Tennessee (accessed September 20, 2005)
- Supreme Court Information and Biographies (accessed September 20, 2005)
- Supreme Court in the Tennessee Blue Book (pdf)
- Bradley Elections: Tennessee Qualifications
- NCSC Online
- ↑ The Memphis Daily News
- ↑ Bradley Elections: Tennessee Qualifications
- ↑ ‘’Tennessee State Courts’’, “Annual Reports”
- ↑ The Sunshine Review, "Tennessee state government salary," August 17, 2011
- ↑ The National Center for State Courts, "Judicial Salary Resource Center" as of Jan. 1, 2010
- ↑ Robert L. Delaney vs. Brook Thompson, 01S01-9808-CH-00144 (Tenn. 1998).
- ↑ Holder Supports TN Plan
- See also: 2010 State Supreme Court elections
Sharon Lee faced retention and was retained.
| Tennessee Supreme Court |
2010 General election results
- See also: State Supreme Court elections, 2008
William Koch, Jr. faced retention and was retained.
| Tennessee Supreme Court |
2008 General election results
|William Koch, Jr.||n/a||n/a|
|Former||William Barker • Martha Daughtrey • Horace Harmon Lurton •|