Press Releases

Pro-retention Group Releases First Ad in Support of TN Supreme Court Justices

Press release from Tennesseans for Fair Courts; July 22, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (July 22, 2014) – With an unprecedented and nakedly political assault on the Tennessee Supreme Court in full swing, Tennesseans for Fair Courts is ready to strike back with a new ad campaign to protect the independence of the state’s judicial system.

The first ad—a 30-second TV spot—shines a spotlight on the malicious untruths beings spread by political extremists who are attacking three Supreme Court Justices in particular. The ad quotes various media outlets and independent judicial experts who have called the accusations “false,” “misleading,” “lunacy” and a “smear campaign.”

“Experts have evaluated and condemned these false attacks on our state’s Supreme Court, and that is a fact every voter in Tennessee needs to know,” said Clint Kelly, a Hendersonville attorney and spokesperson for Tennesseans for Fair Courts.

The expert analysis, as reported in The Tennessean, WTVF-TV NewsChannel 5, and elsewhere, concludes that accusations that Justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade have ever “advanced ObamaCare” are complete fabrications.

“That is the lie of all lies to say they had anything to do with ObamaCare,” said Kelly. “They have not made any rulings on ObamaCare, nor are they likely to because that’s a federal issue and this is a state court.”

In a July 20th editorial titled “Don’t be fooled by the smear campaign,” The Tennessean responded to attempts to connect any state Supreme Court Justice to ObamaCare by saying, “This is lunacy—and a sad case of using a charged buzzword just to inflame and mislead.”

“These falsehoods are part of a transparent power grab by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. He isn’t satisfied with a super majority in the state legislature and is trying to seize control of the Supreme Court as well,” said Kelly.

The first 30-second TV spot by Tennesseans for Fair Courts is now available online and will be aired on network and cable television in markets across Tennessee. See the ad at

“Ron Ramsey is embarrassing our state by trying to cast aside the checks and balances established by our Founding Fathers. He’s allowed himself to become a handmaiden for the Koch Brothers and other out-of-state ‘dark money’ groups who want their own personal brand of political extremism to run rampant in our courts,” said Kelly.

According to the Tennessee Bar Association, nine out of ten attorneys in Tennessee want to retain all three justices because they are fairly and impartially administering the law under the Constitutions of the state and the country.

All three justices are also supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, which generally does not make endorsements in supreme court elections but has made an exception in response to the unprecedented politicization of this year’s election.

A bi-partisan group of current and former prosecutors has also publically come out in favor of retaining all three state Supreme Court justices.

Press Releases

Ads For, Against Retention of State Supreme Court Justices Flood TN Airwaves

Press release from Justice At Stake; July 23, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23 – A significant new barrage of politically-charged campaign ads hit Tennessee airwaves this week targeting three state Supreme Court justices up for retention. Among the out-of-state groups spending money to unseat the justices is Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers-linked dark money group that also spent money to influence state Supreme Court races in North Carolina and Florida in 2012. Other groups seeking to influence Tennessee’s retention election include the Republican State Leadership Committee, which distributed fliers, and the State Government Leadership Foundation.

The state is seeing a surge of ads both for and against Justices Gary Wade, Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee as the August 7 retention election approaches. Early voting began July 18. While much of the advertising spending is likely to remain undocumented until the next state disclosure deadline at the end of July, public FCC files show spending on television ad contracts continues to rise, and has crossed the $400,000 threshold.

The ads include:

  • A radio ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, criticizing the justices for appointing a “liberal” Attorney General who did not oppose Obamacare.
  • A TV ad sponsored by Tennesseans for Fair Courts, a pro-retention group, disputing claims made in ads opposing the justices.
  • A TV ad sponsored by the Tennessee Forum, a conservative Tennessee group, claiming the justices are “liberal on crime” and “threaten your freedoms.” It urges voters to “replace the liberal Supreme Court.” The group said these ads are part of statewide campaign that will air through the election.
  • A TV ad highlighting the justices’ records, saying they upheld “nearly 90 percent of death sentences,” and urging viewers to vote in favor of their retention.
  • A TV ad from the State Government Leadership Foundation, a partner group of the Republican State Leadership Committee, criticizing the three justices for being “liberal on the Obama agenda.”
  • A TV ad in favor of Justice Gary Wade, describing him as focused on work, family and faith.
  • A TV ad sponsored by Keep Tennessee Courts Fair (the coordinated campaign to retain justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade), in which retired Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Mickey Barker says “politics has no place in our courts.”

“The continued flood of money into judicial elections from all sides is already a threat to impartial justice. But if AFP has decided to spend the kind of money in a judicial race that it has spent in other contests around the country, this could transform judicial politics in the United States,” noted Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, which has been monitoring money and politics in this year’s judicial elections. “More judges are feeling trapped in a system that is persuading many people that justice is for sale.”

“The ads in Tennessee are just the latest in a disturbing trend of outside groups attempting to influence who sits on our courts,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “People need to feel that judges are accountable to the law, not special interest groups pouring money into retention elections. Ads that politicize judges’ records on the bench undermine the independence of our courts.”

Press Releases

National Group Worries Both Sides in Supreme Court Retention Fight Politicizing Judicial Rulings

Press release from Justice at Stake; July 21, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 21 – The first television ads calling for voters to oust three Tennessee Supreme Court justices facing retention on August 7th have hit the state’s airwaves, as the retention election continues to heat up.

An ad sponsored by the Tennessee Forum, a conservative Tennessee group, claims the justices are “liberal on crime” and “threaten your freedoms.” It urges voters to “replace the liberal Supreme Court.” The group said these ads are part of statewide campaign that will air through the election.

Public records show that the Tennessee Forum has spent at least $119,055 on television ad contracts in the Nashville, Knoxville, Jackson, Tri-Cities and Chattanooga markets on several stations: WTVF ($30,800); WKRN ($11,150); WSMV ($13,670); WATE ($7,865); WVLT ($12,250); WBIR ($19,155); WDEF ($3,735); WDSI ($1,925); WJHL (16,065); and WTNZ ($2,440).

“Bare-knuckle Supreme Court campaigns have been spreading around the country, and now it’s Tennessee’s turn,” noted Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, which has been monitoring money and politics in this year’s judicial elections. “The new ad is right out of the usual playbook, accusing judges of being soft on crime. As spending accelerates on both sides, yet another state court is being pressured to raise big money and answer to interest groups and politicians.”

“Campaign ads on both sides that politicize judges’ rulings in criminal cases are particularly troubling,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Characterizing judges as soft or tough on crime could put pressure on judges to decide cases with an eye toward how their judgment will be portrayed in the next election cycle.

The Tennessee Forum and the Republican State Leadership Committee have also distributed direct mail pieces urging voters to replace the justices.

Public records show that campaigns to retain the justices have spent at least $201,495 so far on television ad contracts in the Memphis, Nashville, Jackson and Knoxville markets on several stations: WKRN ($23,010); three buys on WSMV ($20,340, $21,975, $9,175); WTVF ($21,850); WHBQ ($3,605); WLMT ($1,245); WREG ($16,230); three buys on WBIR ($14,245, $20,025, $6,915); WVLT ($8,165); WTNZ ($3,250); WATN ($3,320); WMC ($13,365); and two buys on WATE ($6,940, $7,840).

The ad highlights the justices’ records, saying they upheld “nearly 90 percent of death sentences,” and urges viewers to vote in favor of their retention.

Since 2000, Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics have documented spending in judicial elections in the New Politics of Judicial Elections series (click for the latest report, The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts.) No fundraising or advertising has been previously documented in Tennessee Supreme Court elections in the New Politics reports. As noted in the latest New Politics report, fundraising and spending in retention elections are widely considered to be a recent phenomenon.

Press Releases

National Impartial Courts Advocacy Group Red Flags High Spending in TN Judicial Retention Campaigns

Press release from Justice At Stake; July 11, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 11 – Campaigns to retain three state Supreme Court justices up for retention in Tennessee’s August 7 election have purchased at least $107,610 worth of television airtime and begun airing ads on behalf of the candidates. The justices’ campaigns have reported a fundraising total of $598,261.99 according to state disclosure records. Meanwhile, the Republican State Leadership Committee registered with the state elections board on July 10th, reinforcing expectations that they plan to launch a campaign aimed at ousting the three justices. Another opposition group, the Tennessee Forum, began distributing direct mail pieces urging the defeat of the justices. Expenditures for the mailings have not yet been reported. The advertising and mailings come in the wake of extensive reporting on an effort by the state’s lieutenant governor to organize a campaign to oust the justices.

“In recent years we have seen state judicial retention races become more politicized,” noted Debra Erenberg, Director of State Affairs for Justice at Stake, which has been monitoring money and politics in this year’s judicial elections. “As a result, we are seeing judges raising large sums of money to defend themselves against efforts to oust them. That’s what is happening in Tennessee.”

Public records show that the campaigns of Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee have raised a total of $598,261.99. So far, campaigns to retain the justices have spent a total of $107,610 placing ads in the Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville markets on several stations: WSMV ($21,975); WTVF ($21,850); WHBQ ($3,605); WLMT ($1,245); WREG ($16,230); WBIR ($14,245); WVLT ($8,165) and three separate buys on WATE ($20,295) WATE-1, WATE-2 and WATE-3.

The ad highlights the justices’ records and urges voters to vote in favor of their retention.

In early May, Tennessee media began reporting on a plan by Lieutenant Governor Rom Ramsey to organize a campaign against the justices. According to media reports, the plan was created “to convince big business to put up potentially millions of dollars to oust three sitting justices,” and recommended a strategy accusing the justices of being soft on crime. Controversy surrounding the reports led Governor Bill Haslam to state publicly that he would neither join fellow Republicans in an effort to defeat the Democrat-appointed justices, nor defend the justices.

Most recently, Ramsey was reported as saying that he and allies have raised a million dollars for the effort to oust the justices and will begin their campaign soon. Fundraising totals have not yet been reported.

Since 2000, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice have documented spending in judicial elections in the New Politics of Judicial Elections series (click for the latest report, The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts.) No fundraising or advertising has been previously documented in Tennessee Supreme Court elections in the New Politics reports. As noted in the latest New Politics report, fundraising and spending in retention elections are widely considered to be a recent phenomenon.

Press Releases

TN Bar Association Proposes New Judicial Conduct Rules

Press Release from the Tennessee Bar Association, Feb. 24, 2011:

New disqualification and recusal standards, procedure urged

NASHVILLE, Feb. 25, 2011 — New stricter standards and procedures for determining disqualification and recusal of judges, changes in restrictions on campaign activities by judges, and a new prohibition on judges presiding over cases in which they participate in judicial settlement conferences are among the changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct being recommended in a petition filed with the Tennessee Supreme Court today by the Tennessee Bar Association.

The proposed rule changes come as a result of an 18-month long study of the Code of Judicial Conduct undertaken by a task force of judges and lawyers. In its petition, the TBA says one of the reasons for the new recusal and disqualification standards and procedures is the “explosion of contested, big money campaigns for judicial office.” The petition cites a U.S. Supreme Court decision, which found that huge contributions in a West Virginia Supreme Court case had raised questions regarding whether the participation of a judge violated the due process clause. Commenting on the proposed changes, TBA President Sam Elliott said:

“A key role of the Tennessee Bar Association is to continually consider and propose updates and improvements to the various rules that govern the practice of law in the state. The changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct proposed by the task force are the result of the outstanding work of lawyers and judges at the highest level of our profession, and will prove to be a clear guideline to our judges as they fulfill their essential function in our society. The TBA is grateful to those lawyers and judges on the task force who so generously gave their time and talents to this effort.”

The task force was chaired by prominent Chattanooga lawyer Max Bahner with Knoxville lawyer Sarah Sheppeard serving as the Reporter. The group is made up of 13 members with a majority of the panel being judges. The group used the 2007 American Bar Association Model Code of Judicial Conduct as a guide, which Task Force chair Bahner called the “most influential guide for such rules, subject to a states’ distinctive practices.” Twenty-two states have approved revisions as a result of the changes and twenty more have established committees or have published proposed revisions.

The 80- page proposal includes provisions that:

1. Provide greater guidance on judicial disqualification and recusal. Included are factors such as the levels of campaign support for the judge or the judge’s opponent, the timing of the support and independent expenditures.

2. Require compliance with new procedures for motions to determine incompetence, disqualification and recusal.

3. Consistent with recent constitutional decisions, significantly lessen the restrictions on campaign activities while making it clear that campaign committees and judges must fully comply with campaign finance disclosure statutes, and that such activities may lead to disqualification.

4. Include within the provisions related to judges’ families a person with whom another person maintains a household and an intimate relationship other than a person to whom he or she is legally married.

5. Clarify application of certain code provisions to senior judges, part-time judges, continuing part-time judges and temporary judges.

6. Clarify when judges may provide a reference or recommendation.

7. Clarify a judge’s responsibility to report violations of lawyer or judicial ethics.

8. Permit judges, spouses and guests to attend events associated with educational, civic, religious, fraternal and charitable organizations.

9. Limit participation in activities of organizations, which engage in political advocacy in limited subject areas or consistently for one side in lawsuits.

10. Emphasize that judges must perform their duties promptly, as well as competently, diligently and cooperatively.

If the court follows its usual practice in considering such recommendations, the proposal will be published for a period of time for public comment, followed by closer examination of any issues on which there is substantial disagreement.


The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) is the largest professional association in Tennessee with more than 11,000 members. Founded in 1881, the TBA provides opportunities for continuing legal education, professional development and public service. The Young Lawyers Division is comprised of association members age 36 and younger or within the first five years of practice regardless of age. The division is dedicated to helping new lawyers succeed in the profession through mentoring programs, continuing legal education and peer networking, as well as find fulfillment in the practice of law through pro bono legal work and public service projects.

Liberty and Justice NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Chief Justice Makes Rounds with Legislators

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia Clark said this week she has met with leadership of the Tennessee General Assembly to discuss matters of the courts, but Clark said she is reluctant to share details of those conversations.

Clark has spoken publicly recently about her opposition in general to legislative efforts to make judges run in competitive elections, and to do away with the Tennessee Plan, which has judges face retention elections with a yes-or-no vote. Critics of the Tennessee Plan say they are not true elections. But supporters of the plan, including Clark, say the current system helps keep partisan politics out of the process.

The Tennessee Constitution calls for appellate judges to be elected, and the Tennessee Plan has been found to pass constitutional muster. Clark has likened the election of judges to allowing sports teams to support a slate of referees who will call their games.

Much of Clark’s communications have been about administrative issues of the courts as opposed to matters like electing judges, however.

One member of the Legislature has been critical of Clark publicly weighing in on the election issue. Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, has said that just as legislators should not inject themselves into cases before the court, members of the court should not lobby legislators.

Bell was scheduled for a one-on-one meeting with Clark, and Bell said this week Clark did visit him. But Bell said Clark said she understood how he felt about her position on the Tennessee Plan and they agreed not to bring up legislative issues. They focused instead, he said, on administrative matters.

Bell had told TNReport that he objected to Clark lobbying on legislation, and Clark acknowledged this week that she learned of Bell’s opinion through TNReport. Bell described their meeting as “a very cordial conversation” that lasted 20-30 minutes.

“We stayed away from any proposed legislation,” Bell said. “We talked about some things I had questions about. I brought up just about everything that was brought up in the conversation.”

Press Releases

Haslam Promises Better Education, Job Security for Tennessee in Inaugural Address

Press Release from Gov. Bill Haslam, Jan. 15, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Standing before throngs of Inauguration attendees on Legislative Plaza, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam told Tennesseans across the state he was ready to go to work making Tennessee a better place to live, work and raise a family.

“There are opportunities before us. We cannot do or be everything. We have to exercise good judgment as we set our priorities. The path we will travel will not be smooth and there will be a few bumps along the way,” Haslam said after taking the Oath of Office from Tennessee State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia “Connie” Clark, the first woman to administer the oath in state history.

“As your governor, I promise to be a good listener and a continuous learner, to lead with grace and humility, and when faced with adversity, to respond with determination,” Haslam added. “And finally, I will work hard. In business, as a mayor, and as a candidate for governor, I have learned nothing replaces hard work.”

The inauguration comes at the end of the week Haslam spent on a statewide Swing Tour discussing his ideas for education reform and economic development. His inaugural speech covered his three biggest priorities: job, education and managing the state’s budget, as he made several commitments to Tennesseans.

JOBS: “Our goal is simple: Top-tier education for our children. Re-training for those out of work and underemployed. A healthy lifestyle. All three will make Tennessee number one in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

PRINCIPALS AND TEACHERS: “This is my commitment to you: We will improve our teaching, learning, retention and graduation. Every student deserves a great teacher, and every school needs a great principal. The tools will be in place – the rest is up to each of us to seize the opportunities.”

EDUCATION: “The expectations and standards of education excellence for every student in Tennessee are high. This is the time to continue significant education reform – and shame on us if we let this moment escape without meaningful action. The path for better jobs now and into the future requires more than the current 1 out of 5 Tennesseans over the age of 25 who have a college degree.”

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT: “Government stands ready to assist, but government is not the solution. Offering hope through workforce development, technical training and work keys are building blocks on the road to job recovery and job security. But equally important is the individual determination and drive to invest the time and energy and hard work to be more.”

STATE BUDGET: “As we slowly reverse the negative trends of the economic downturn that gripped our state and nation, we will be diligent in watching the weight of state government, going on a diet of efficiency and effectiveness. State government will live within its financial means, and a Top to Bottom review will set priorities and establish measurable goals.”

EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT: “As we begin writing a new chapter in our state’s history, I ask you, the elected state senators and representatives, to join with me in rolling up our sleeves and going to work. Our measure of effective state government is whether our citizens are served well and at the lowest possible cost. The people of Tennessee are our customers and we will be all about excellent customer service.”

For more information, please visit

Featured News

Supreme Court Crowns New Chief Justice

Tennessee Supreme Court justices typically spend their time making serious decisions, but members spent Wednesday morning joking about magic wands and tiaras.

The state’s most powerful judicial body swore in Justice Cornelia Clark as Chief Justice, making her the second woman to hold that Supreme Court position in the state’s history.

“Today, I have the unique honor of becoming a chief spokesman, both ceremonial and otherwise, for this large, diverse and talented group of professionals that occupy this justice system family,” said Clark, 59. “Though we will have occasions in the future where we’re going to have to fuss over a problem, we’ll all stand together in the world to face the challenges ahead.”

The Franklin native is taking over for Chief Justice Janice Holder who stepped down from the post after reaching the end of her two-year term limit.

Although Holder passed the gavel to Clark, she said she’d refuse to give up her “wand.”

Clark had given her the wand in 2008 when she was being sworn in as the chief justice. Since then, Holder says she’s contemplated using it to make her job easier.

“Now I’ve got to admit there are a couple of times when I was writing opinions where I was tempted to use the wand to make the conditions go away. I restrained myself and did not use my wand and I thought better of it and I resolved those issues appropriately,” Holder told the chuckling audience. “After that experience, I decided Chief Justice Clark would not need my wand.”

She then handed Clark two gifts. One was a tiara, which she considered “an essential part of any female chief justice’s wardrobe.” The other was a pink sash with the word “chief” embroidered on it, which — she pointed out — matches the tiara.

Justice Sharon Lee, the third of three women on the five-member board, applauded Clark not only for her appointment, but for creating a succession of female leaders.

“You know, historically, the tradition of a woman severing as Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court was a little slow in our state. In fact, it took 173 years for that to begin,” she said. “I hope it’s one of those new inventions that’s here to stay.”

Clarke was sworn in as Chief Justice before a crowd of some 300 people at the Williamson County Courthouse, the very building where she had made her first appearance as a trial judge.

Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen appointed Clark to the high court in 2005. She was then elected to serve out an eight-year term in 2006.

The five member body, which also includes Justices William Koch, Jr., and Gary Wade, chooses who will serve out the next two years as the chief justice.

“For the past twenty-plus years Justice Clark has served the judiciary, she had demonstrated the kind of generosity and her leadership and devotion to the state of Tennessee,” said Wade. “And so today, it is entirely appropriate that she accept now the leadership of the Tennessee Supreme Court.”

Although representatives from the legal community did not bring gifts like wands or tiaras to the ceremony, they commended Clark for her discipline, leadership, and ability to get things done.

“We’ve been lucky to have years of strong chief justices who have done us good in the eyes of the citizens and the judiciary and the legislature,” said Presiding Judge Joseph M. Tipton, Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. “I look forward to and with confidence to Justice Clark leading with the same strength.”