'Modified' ruling of Chancellor Lyle will put ball back in court of Selection Commission
UPDATED 12:15 p.m. with link to ruling.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has issued a ruling today upholding the Chancery Court decision of Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle in the case of Bredesen vs. Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission, albeit in a modified form.
In this year-old question as to who will become the fifth member of the Tennessee Supreme Court, Bredesen and, in essence, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper have prevailed. A copy of the ruling is available at this link.
UPDATE 12:32 p.m. Wednesday:
Last year, Justices E. Riley Anderson and A. A. Birch announced that they would be stepping down from the state’s highest court.
Subsequently, the Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission met, as required by statute, and nominated three individuals for one of the vacancies. Following that process, Gov. Phil Bredesen appointed Gary Wade to the bench.
With the appointment of Wade and the retirement of Birch, the court was about to find itself without an African-American jurist for the first time in over 20 years.
The Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission then nominated Davidson County Chancellor Richard Dinkins, Covington attorney Houston Gordon, and Memphis attorney George T. "Buck" Lewis as the slate from which Bredesen could choose a justice to fill the remaining seat.
Shortly thereafter, Dinkins, the only African-American nominee on the recommended panel, withdrew from consideration citing familial responsibilities. Bredesen then, in turn, rejected the nominations of Lewis and Gordon, saying that there was a “need for diversity” on the bench.
Since then, attorneys for all sides have wrangled over whether Bredesen had the right to reject the slate on those grounds and whether Gordon, who was re-nominated by the Selection Commission, had the right to be considered again.
Today, the high court has ruled that Bredesen was within his rights.
The court has found as follows:
- That Dinkins' withdrawal from consideration did not invalidate the first panel given to the Governor by the Selection Commission
- That the Selection Commission erred in re-nominating Gordon
- That the Tennessee Human Rights Act does not apply to the consideration of who will serve on the court
- That a challenge made by Lewis that he was denied equal protection was without merit; and
- That the Selection Commission must reopen the nomination process and submit three new names to Bredesen.
The fifth point by the Supreme Court is where the modification of the Chancery ruling occurs.
Chancellor Lyle had ruled that only one new name had to be provided to Bredesen in the place of Gordon. The Supreme Court is now saying that it’s a whole new ball game and that Gordon and Lewis cannot be reconsidered for this appointment and that the Selection Commission does not have to give Bredesen the other two names on the second panel, Memphis Judge D’Army Bailey and Court of Appeals Judge William Koch.
In effect, the second panel never happened.
With this ruling, the Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission is expected to reconvene soon and submit its final list to Bredesen.
- ALEX B FRUIN INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDACE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDANCE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; FRUIN, ALEX B TRUSTEE; FRUIN ALEX B INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC, CANDACE F TRUSTEE; STEFANSIC CANDACE F INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC CANDANCE F INHERITANCE TRUST
- ROSS, BRIDGETT D
- COOKE, ETHEN LANYARD TRUSTEE; COOKE, ETHEN LEWIS ESTATE
- JACOBS, JESSICA ALEXANDRA; JACOBS, ERIKA BESS