Republican ballot bid fails to oust Tennessee Supreme Court judges
NASHVILLE (AP) — Three Democratic state Supreme Court justices withstood a conservative effort Thursday to oust them from the bench and possibly tip the political scales of Tennessee’s highest court.
The campaign against Justices Gary Wade, Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee — each appointed by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat — turned the normally routine yes-no “retention” ballot question for justices into a political gambit that featured a blitz of TV ads and Republican-led fundraising seeking to sway the makeup of the court.
The ultimate goal stretched beyond control of the five-member Supreme Court, whose justices must gain approval from voters to move on to another eight-year term. Tennessee is the only state in which the high court names the attorney general. Attorney General Bob Cooper’s term ends Aug. 31.
Republicans, who hold vast majorities in the Legislature, have criticized Cooper for refusing to join a multi-state lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s federal health care law.
“Some people think they can come in and buy an election in Tennessee,” Lee told WSMV-TV. She said the vote was a win for Tennessee because it preserved the justice system in the state.
The justices were also endorsed by the Tennessee Fraternal Order of Police and a number of prosecutors around the state.
The influx of campaign cash spent on the three Tennessee Supreme Court elections transformed what is traditionally a sleepy and low-cost affair into a hard-fought campaign.
Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey led the effort to oust the three justices. Last week, Ramsey disclosed that he had given $425,000 from his political action committee to bankroll a series of ads painting the justices as liberal supporters of Barack Obama’s health care law who are soft on crime.
Ramsey congratulated the three justices on their victory.
“For the first time in decades, we had a real election for the Supreme Court,” Ramsey said in a statement he issued after the races were called. “Our Supreme Court justices traveled the state of Tennessee this summer meeting Tennesseans and learning things about our state that you can’t find in any law book. Because of that, more Tennesseans than ever know the names of our Supreme Court justices and are aware they have a role in deciding who sits on the high court.”