Bar association blasts bid to remove judge over absentee ballot ruling

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), standing right, attends a GOP caucus meeting on July 24, 2019, in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Bar Association says an effort to oust a Nashville judge over her ruling in an absentee voting case last summer “threatens the bedrock principle of separation of powers.”

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) introduced the resolution to begin ouster proceedings against Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle last week. The measure has 67 co-sponsors — enough for the removal to clear the House chamber if it came up for a floor vote. Lyle was appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist in the 1990s.

Bar Association President Michelle Greenway Seller said in a release that if the ouster succeeds, it could “create a precedent that any time a judge rules against the state, or on a statute, or renders a politically unpopular decision, that decision could potentially trigger legislative removal proceedings against that judge.”

Read the full release below.

NASHVILLE, March 2, 2021 — The Tennessee Bar Association issued a statement today challenging a Tennessee House resolution that would consider removing Nashville Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle from office. House Resolution 23 (HR 23) would “have a chilling effect on the administration of justice in our state and threatens the bedrock principle of separation of powers, which lies at the core of Tennessee’s system of government,” the statement says in part.

Below is the complete statement from TBA President Michelle Greenway Sellers:

Since 1881, the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) has represented the entire spectrum of the Tennessee legal community, from plaintiff and defense attorneys to judges, government and legal services attorneys, corporate counsel, and many attorneys residing outside the State who retain an interest in the Tennessee legal profession.The TBA is a strong advocate for the profession and the development and maintenance of our justice system. This statement is not intended to be political or partisan, but instead one of extreme concern and caution related to the fundamental importance of the separation of powers and maintaining an independent judiciary in the State of Tennessee. We believe House Resolution 23 (HR 23) will have a chilling effect on the administration of justice in our State, and threatens the bedrock principle of separation of powers, which lies at the core of Tennessee’s system of government.

Article VI, Section 6 of the Tennessee Constitution provides a process for removing judges and attorneys for the state from office for cause. HR 23 appears to be the first time the legislature has used Article VI, Section 6 of the Tennessee Constitution to begin the removal process of a judge from office for cause based on rulings in a judicial proceeding. After a thorough review of HR 23 and the underlying case, the TBA has significant concerns about the resolution’s impact on the constitutional separation of powers in our three branches of government. As stated in the Preamble to Rule 10 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, “[a]n independent, fair and impartial judiciary is indispensable to our system of justice.” Judges should decide matters based on a thorough analysis and interpretation of the law without concern for the decision’s potential political implications.

Article VI, Section 6 is not a tool used as a matter of course, and we respectfully believe that the legislature should not use it in this circumstance. The TBA is concerned that HR 23, if successful, will create a precedent that any time a judge rules against the state, or on a statute, or renders a politically unpopular decision, that decision could potentially trigger legislative removal proceedings against that judge. This also results in the potential for removing a judge any time a ruling is overturned on appeal, when in fact the act of the appeal is a clear measure that the legal process is working appropriately.

Tennessee law provides for multiple avenues to hold judges accountable should that prove necessary. One such avenue, the Board of Judicial Conduct, was created by the legislature itself. The board provides an orderly and efficient method for inquiring into, among other things, the fitness of judges, a judge’s manner of performance of duty, and the judge’s commission of any act that reflects unfavorably upon the judiciary or that may adversely affect the administration of justice. The board is comprised of 16 members, eight of which are appointed by the speakers of the Senate and House, respectively.

Further, the judicial system has in place an appeals process. The state utilized the appeals process in the matters outlined in HR 23. Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned Chancellor Lyle’s temporary injunction, although one justice did agree with her.

The people act as another vehicle for judicial accountability. Article VI, Section 4 of the Tennessee Constitution provides that “…the Judges of the Circuit and Chancery Courts, and of other Inferior Courts, shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned.” Chancellor Lyle, like many other judges across this state, is an elected judge. She will stand for reelection and face a decision on her continued tenure by the voters in her district. The voters in her district should exercise their judgment about whether or not she should remain in office. Reasonable minds can and will continue to disagree with judicial decisions even in cases like this one of first impression. The remedies related to those disagreements lie in the appellate process and at the voting booth. Processes currently exist as a check on all judges, and those processes work. We strongly encourage members of the General Assembly and the citizens of this state to utilize the appeals process, make complaints to the Board of Judicial Conduct when necessary, and exercise their right to vote. We also urge the General Assembly to reconsider HR 23 and its impact on an impartial, independent judiciary.

58 Responses to Bar association blasts bid to remove judge over absentee ballot ruling

  • Avatar
    Michael Lottman says:

    This resolution by Republican state legislators strikes at the heart of representative government and separation of powers in the state of Tennessee, all in the service of enhancing the political interest of the Republican Party. Governor Lee should abandon his usual posture of cowardly silence and speak out strongly against this attempted attack on the judiciary and on the rights of all Tennessee citizens.

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      David Collins says:

      First off Michael, I am not sure Governor Lee has any idea whatsoever what the term “separation of powers” even means. Only an absolute idiot like Tim Rudd would introduce such stupidity. Someone needs to take Rudd aside and try to explain the concept to him. If the legislative branch is upset with a particular court’s ruling, its recourse would be to maybe pass a resolution condemning the ruling. Rudd obviously went back to sleep after the Judge’s initial ruling and totally missed the part where the State Supreme Court reversed it. Of course, the legislature has the power to remove (impeach) a sitting judge for commission of a crime but not because it disagrees with a ruling from that particular court. When did schools stop teaching basic civics?

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        Cryan says:

        When the Democrats held majorities in the General Assembly for decades, they were no less corrupt. But they sure weren’t this stupid.

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      Phillip Lassiter says:

      Legislature needs to strike hard and fast and continue removing these so-nothing liberal judges. All of Davidson County is a pig yard full of liberals that only removal and Redistricting will cure. Cut out the cancer of Tennessee.

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        Stuart I. Anderson says:

        Noooooooooo Phillip! Redistricting 101 is that when faced with sizeable liberal ghettos in a sea of solid conservativism you want to concentrate the leftists in a few legislative pockets so the rest elect a super majority of conservatives. The only way you “[c]ut out the cancer of Tennessee” is if we could somehow ship our few leftists somewhere more congenial to their sour disposition. While the thought may bring a smile to both of our faces, I’m afraid we really can’t do that and there are simply too many of them to disperse without endangering a number of solid conservative districts so I say concentration rather than dispersion is the key.

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          Donna Locke says:

          One time in redistricting in Georgia, I was looking at the new map, and the Republican majority whip, whom I had called a dim bulb on my Web site and who was involved in drawing the new lines, had drawn a curving line in my subdivision and removed my house only from his district.

          • Avatar
            Stuart I. Anderson says:

            What a compliment! I can understand why you wanted to recount that story.

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            Donna Locke says:

            It was funny but still not as funny as the district lines in Tennessee when the Democrats were in charge.

      • Avatar
        Cryan says:

        Sounds like a good deal for Nashville if they get to keep 100% of the tax revenues they generate for the rest of the state.

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    steve cates says:

    Thanks, David Collins, for your remarks about Lee and Rudd!!! I want you to know, however, that TN public school students must pass a semester of American Government before graduating high school.

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    Karen Bracken says:

    What this resolution does is hold accountable judges that fail uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. Their her butt out. We need to do more of this not only to judges but legislators too.

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    James White says:

    If you don’t follow the constitution, then you should be impeached as the constitution demands.

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      Perry Aubric says:

      Ok, Mr. Follow-the-Constitution. Here are the three reasons the Constitution of the State of Tennessee allows for the removal of a judge: impeachment for crimes, unfitness for office, and misbehavior in office. Not liking a “liberal” (a subjective determination on your part in the first place) is not there. This effort is unconstitutional on its face. You whine about the Constitution all the damn time, hypocrite. Here’s a chance to defend it.

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        James White says:

        Failing to obey their Oath to the constitution is misbehavior.

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          Jonathan Swift says:

          What part of their oath are they disobeying?

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            Perry Aubric says:

            None. James is a fringe dwelling crackpot. There is no legal basis for removal off this judge.

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          James White says:

          Read the oath. They are supposed to uphold it. Allowing governors and secretaries of departments and mayors to Make Law is not upholding the constitution, only the Legislative branch make law.

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            James White says:

            Every person who shall be chosen or appointed to any office of trust or profit under this Constitution, or any law made in pursuance thereof, shall, before entering on the duties thereof, take an oath to support the Constitution of this State, and of the United States, and an oath of office.
            – Article X Section 1 of the Tennessee Constitution

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    Taxpayer #314 says:

    If a republican or conservative can find a way to screw things up even more in our government, they will do it in Tennessee! How do they keep coming up with such stupid ideas?

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    Phillip Lassiter says:

    If a supermajority of Legislators representing a supermajority of Tennesseans wants a judge gone then it shall be. If that many want something done and the limp wrist left wing infested Board of Judicial Conduct hasn’t already taken decisive action on this issue then it should be overhauled as well in the same legislation.
    Also-don’t give any comments about separation of powers. If you were consistent you would not let attorneys serve in the legislature. More hard facts that get in the way.

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    Eddie White says:

    How funny. The bar association representing the judicial branch is complaining about separation of powers. How many judges have struck down legislation that has passed the state legislature or Congress? We live in a time when the judicial branch is legislating from the bench. The judicial branch is by far the best friend the left has

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      Perry Aubric says:

      Thanks, Eddie. We can count on you for using the same tired, ridiculous rhetoric we have heard since the courts did terrible “legislating from the bench” like applying the law equally to black people in the 1960s. Now that Rush is gone, i guess you parrots will have a harder time learning new catch phrases and finding out what you’re supposed to think.

      • Avatar
        Phillip Lassiter says:

        Shut up idiot. My God. Eddie is 100% correct. By the way, Perry….Trump will not be President March 4th .

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          Cryan says:

          Oh, did Q push the date out again? Predicting when Trump will return to the White House is getting like predicting the Second Coming. Just trust the plan, right?

        • Avatar
          Perry Aubric says:

          What does that even mean. Hopefully Trump will get his first indictments in March.

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    Dr Byron Bush says:

    Judges judging judges is like foxes judging other foxes for stealing chickens out of their hen house. They won’t do it! The Board of Judicial Conduct is a joke… they do nothing… except to protect their own by looking the other way. Fraud upon the court is being committed by those we have entrusted and empowered to protect the citizenry. Unless and until the legislature steps up and impeaches one, then two… and threat of others… this deceit upon our courts will continue.

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    Misty Pardner says:

    This is what happens when you have a super majority. Stupidity run amok. Tim Rudd, a realtor that lives in his mothers basement that has such a grasp of the constitution he determines that this judge has to go. The Republican caucus is an embarrassment to the state.

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      James White says:

      Misty, it is called Checks and Balances. The legislature branch checks the rouge judicial branch. I do not know where Tim Rudd lives, but he does know at least this part of the constitution.
      I agree with Phillip Lassiter – Legislature needs to strike hard and fast and continue removing these so-nothing liberal judges.

    • Avatar
      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Lest any constituent of Tim Rudd’s happens upon this discussion, please remember that Tim is doing an excellent job as your Representative as witnessed by the fact that he has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 88%.

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    Chris Norris says:

    Judge Lyle did what judges are supposed to do – examine a state statute and determine whether it’s constitutional. After finding the statute unconstitutional, she then, due to time constraints before an election, suggested wording to rectify the unconstitutionality of the statute. The issue here is that the judge spoke gruffly from the bench to the Secretary of State’s office representatives after they slow-walked and muted her ruling. HRH Tre Hargett didn’t like being threatened with contempt of court, which is what’s behind the current effort to remove the judge.
    The TN Supreme Court only “reversed” Judge Lyle’s ruling AFTER the State saw the light and reversed it’s position – essentially adopting most of Lyle’s ruling as the position of the State.
    Seeking to remove an elected judge from office because the judge found a state statute unconstitutional is unconstitutional in and of itself.
    Judges – who are just doing their job – should not have to second guess a legal opinion finding a statute unconstitutional out of concern the General Assembly will remove them from office.

    • Avatar
      James White says:

      All things about voting and ballots are under the Legislative branch, the Judicial branch has No authority to tell anyone how to word a ballot .

      • Avatar
        Chris Norris says:

        James White, not true. When a Court has found the Secretary of State’s wording on an absentee ballot form to be unconstitutional, the Court has a role to play. The issue in TN is that the legislature and the Secretary of State are actively working to suppress the vote.

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    James White says:

    I see Georgia Cracks Down on Mail Voting & Other Issues in Election-reform Bill. Leftists Are Livid.
    You can see some good changes happening there….

    • Avatar
      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      When Republicans finally bestir themselves to do something about the outrages of the left it is a pretty thing to behold. Unfortunately it takes soooooo much to shoo them out of the tall grass before they finally act. That’s why, making the Republican Party fit for purpose is Job One for conservatives who want to arrest the decline of this country.

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        Taxpayer #314 says:

        The conservative/republicans will use any and all dirty tricks to try to suppress the vote in GA and many other states and they love it. They think they are so clever sneaking this past all those liberals hiding in the tallgrass. BS, Stuart and you know it but you have to keep repeating the lie to make it at least a little believable to you and hopefully for you, others too. It does not work like that. You are painting yourself into a corner with this belief in the Big Lie.

    • Avatar
      James White says:

      I see Texas and Mississippi rescinding some or most of their Covid related ‘orders’

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        Taxpayer #314 says:

        And watch what happens to the numbers of cases and deaths in those two states. You conservatives just don’t learn anything. Two states that are now FREE to infect others and still can’t find any clean water to drink or bath in. That is the conservative way!! Ted Fled rates an 88% score on that news, don’t you think? Gotta love those shining examples of republican leadership, no explaination necessary, James

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    Taxpayer #314 says:

    Abbott is already accusing Biden of releasing hordes of immigrants who are carrying Covid-19 into the state of Texas. Florida is in the top 10 states for new cases and so are Texas and Mississippi. Without restrictions the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and then deaths will start to climb one more time. It is the conservative way – no rules with no leadership!

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      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      It’s what is known as placing individual freedom at the top of the list of society’s goals which naturally carries with it respect for citizens and treating them as adults capable of making their own decisions rather than treating them as addle brained wards of the all knowing state. As time passes we will see which states prosper Florida and Texas or your beloved New York and California. I do have to hand it to you Taxpayer, while giving vent to your heartfelt left-wing sentiments you manage to keep your butt safely in Tennessee which is governed by conservatives much like Florida and Texas. SMART.

      • Avatar
        Taxpayer #314 says:

        The old conservative line…freedom to infect more people. Conservatives think first about me, me me, not a thought about how your selfish actions can and do harm others. Selfish people use dirty tricks whenever possible, that is the conservative way!

      • Avatar
        MARLE says:

        And the Freedom to cost every taxpayer in America MORE. Your freedom stops at my bill for your bravado. At least that is the essence of RESPONSIBILITY. Every sob-sister wants Freedom and ZERO responsibility. And that is how we have gotten to the sorry state we are in.

    • Avatar
      James White says:

      Florida’s daily new cases and new deaths are on a downward trend since the first of Jan.
      https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/usa/florida/

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    Taxpayer #314 says:

    You are both wrong. According to John Hopkins Hospital records, Florida is ranked seventh in the country today and Texas is right behind them ranked ninth in new cases of Covid-19, per capita. And just today, your good old boy, Desenseless came to the forefront for trading access to Covid Vaccines to his political donors. Nice little racket, that is the conservative way! And why do you assume I live in Tennessee, or that I love NY or California, Stuart? Is it the conservative way to just assume stuff you don’t like is how other people think or behave?

  • Avatar
    James White says:

    Florida is a high population state and may be ranked 7th, but it is on a downward trend nevertheless.

    • Avatar
      Taxpayer #314 says:

      The entire country is on a downward trend. Florida is just not dropping as fast as other states and will soon, like Texas, start to inch back upward. The numbers reported are PER CAPITA, which means the numbers are already adjusted for population differences. Keep track of FL numbers and see if they don’t start to turn the curve upward soon. This is called science so you conservatives better just stay away, it might be too complicated for “true believers” to comprehend.

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    Taxpayer #314 says:

    But we should note, just for the record, that any time a conservative, republican state is totally dominated by methods of dirty tricks and lies is exposed to public scrutiny at any level, the party immediately releases an excuse on why it just could not possibly be their fault. There is always some boogey-man that is responsible for the failures of their “enlightened thinking.” This the hoax of attributing the increase in numbers of Covid in Texas to those pesky immigrants. That little lie hits two of their favorite targets in one accusation. Totally untrue but it serves the purpose for them. It is the conservative way!

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    Taxpayer #314 says:

    Also for the record, Florida went from 7th place to 6th yesterday and today it went up to 5th place for new Covid cases, per capita. Gotta love that “conservative freedom.”

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