sarah campbell

TNJ exclusive: Lee chooses Campbell for Tenn. Supreme Court

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is naming associate state solicitor general Sarah Campbell to the bench of the Tennessee Supreme Court, The Tennessee Journal has learned.

Campbell, 39, is an associate solicitor general and special assistant to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery. She grew up in Rogersville before attending Duke law school and going on to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. She later worked for the Williams & Connolly law firm in Washington before joining the AG’s office in 2015.

Campbell has represented the state in appeals of federal rulings regarding Tennessee laws on abortion, absentee ballots, and lethal injections. Her references included Solicitor General Andrée Blumstein and state House Judiciary Chair Michael Curcio (R-Dickson).

UPDATE: Lee’s office has made it official.

“Sarah is a highly accomplished attorney and brings valuable experience from the federal level, including the U.S. Supreme Court,” Lee said in a release. “Her commitment to an originalist interpretation of the state and federal constitutions will serve Tennesseans well. She is well-suited for the state’s highest court and I am proud to appoint her to this position.”

If confirmed with by the General Assembly (which is a largely forgone conclusion), Campbell will succeed Justice Connie Clark, who died in September. Campbell is Lee’s first appointment to the Supreme Court. Clark and Sharon Lee were appointed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, while his Republican successor Bill Haslam named Jeff Bivins, Holly Kirby, and Roger Page to the bench.

Here are some of Campbell’s answers to the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments before she was named as a finalist alongside state Court of Appeals judges Kristi Davis and Neal McBrayer.

Should legislative intent in the enactment of state laws factor into judicial rulings?
Campbell:
There are a lot of problems with legislative history. That’s not the law. . . . Particularly when legislative history is cherry-picked in a way to say this is what the sponsors were trying to do. It completely ignores that there were those other interests on the other side that were also being taking into account in that legislative process. All we can say for sure is what language is in the statute.

Who is your judicial role model?
Campbell: My judicial philosophy is very similar to Justice Samuel Alito and Judge William Pryor [of the 11th Circuit, both of whom she clerked for]. I am an originalist and textualist, I believe in judicial modesty and humility. . . to know what the judiciary’s role is vis-à-vis the other branches of government, and not to stray into roles other than what the constitution actually assigns the judiciary.

Does your youth affects your qualifications?
Campbell: Look at the quality and breadth of my experience so far in my career, rather than my age or just the number of years I have been practicing. If you look at the number of cases and sorts of cases I have handled, particularly in the attorney general’s office, where I have been responsible for making the strategic calls and supervising teams of attorneys in cases that are both legally challenging and of significant importance to the state and citizens. That sort of experience sets me apart compared with other lawyers who are my age.

What is the Federalist Society’s significance?
Campbell: One of the ways in which my views became a lot clearer and more nuanced is because at my law school there was a Federalist Society chapter that had great events. At a lot of law schools, particularly elite law schools, there isn’t much intellectual diversity.

How would you deal with negative media attention in high-profile cases?
Campbell: As an appellate judge, my review would be limited to the record that’s before me in that case. And any material outside of that record, whether it’s been media reports, social media, or whatever the case may be, that would be improper for an appellate judge to consider.

Read up on your state Supreme Court finalists here

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

After two days of interviews, the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointment whittled down the list of nine applicants to three for Gov. Bill Lee to choose from.

You can read the finalists’ applications here:

Sarah Campbell, associate solicitor general and special assistant to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery.

Kristi M. Davis, state appeals judge.

Neal McBrayer, state appeals judge.

The vacancy was created by the passing of Justice Connie Clark in September.