Supreme Court

New TNJ edition alert: How the GOP’s new congressional, state Senate maps shake out in Tennessee

It all fits together somehow.

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it:

 — From one into three: Congressional remap cracks Dem stronghold of Nashville.

— State Senate redistricting solidifies current GOP seats.

— Read state Supreme Court nominee Sarah Keeton Campbell’s answers about finding meaning in messy legislation, how oral arguments influence appellate cases, and what she would take into consideration in appointing a new attorney general.

— Legislative roundup: Senate Ethics Committee to consider ousting a sitting member before pending legal issues come to conclusion, treasurer of anti-Tillis PAC says she registered group at the behest of Cade Cothren.

Also: A forgiveness fest between Justin Jones and Glen Casada, the Memphis police chief has her gun stolen out of her husband’s Porsche, and Bud Hulsey gets a new phone.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

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.

Celebration for ex-Haslam adviser hosted by Haslam at Haslam Center

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Bill Haslam is hosting a reception for state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, the former governor’s onetime legal adviser, at the Tennessee State Museum on Wednesday. The event celebrates an award Slatery has received from the National Association of Attorneys General. The museum building, incidentally, was recently named the Haslam Center.

Cohosting the event is Gif Thornton, a lobbyist and managing partner of the Adams & Reese law firm. He also chairs the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments, which recently submitted a slate of three state Supreme Court finalists for Gov. Bill Lee to choose from.

Tennessee is the country’s only state where the attorney general is chosen by the Supreme Court. Slatery’s eight-year term is up this fall, but he has declined to say whether he will seek another appointment to the job.

Here’s the invite to the reception:

New TNJ edition alert: Supreme Court finalists in their own words, Little Debbie lawsuit

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

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it this week:

— We spent two days at judicial selection hearings so you didn’t have to. Here’s what the finalists for the Supreme Court had to say about legislative intent, their judicial role models, and the significance of the Federalist Society.

— Little Debbie snack maker files lawsuit to block new Pharmacy Benefit Manager law championed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

— Of the state’s 15 largest counties, all but two are moving to partisan school board nomination contests.

— Indicted senators update: Kelsey seeks delay for federal campaign finance trial, prosecutors seek to seize Robinson property following conviction.

Also: The state’s revenue collection surge continues, racial tension on the MTSU board, and a difference in perception about automotive incentives in the Beacon Center’s Pork Report.

As always, access your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.

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.

Big shakeup in Supreme Court sweepstakes as Lee to hire Skrmetti as legal counsel

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

Just as the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments was getting ready to interview candidates for a state Supreme Court vacancy on Wednesday, The Tennessee Journal has learned a major contender is dropping out to instead become Gov. Bill Lee’s top legal adviser.

Jonathan T. Skrmetti, the chief deputy to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery will succeed Lang Wiseman, who stepped down on Friday.

Skrmetti is a Harvard law graduate who worked for the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department before serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Memphis from 2011 to 2014. While later working at Butler Snow, Skrmetti was a member of the legal advisory board for the Beacon Center, the conservative think tank and advocacy group. Hired as the No. 2 position in the AG’s office in 2018, he spearheaded the state’s efforts to negotiate a $26 billion national settlement with opioid producers and distributors.

Skrmetti’s withdrawal from the Supreme Court application process leaves nine candidates for job. The Council for Judicial Appointments will narrow the field down to three for Lee to choose from.

UPDATE: The governor’s office has made it official:

“Jonathan is a dedicated public servant and highly qualified legal professional,” Lee said in a release. “He will bring significant experience and tremendous value to our work on behalf of Tennesseans, and I am confident he will continue to serve our state with integrity.”

New TNJ edition alert: Ranking Supreme Court applicants, flight vouchers fizzle

Scorch marks from a portable toilet fire are seen on the John Sevier State Office Building in Nashville on Nov. 24, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee)

The newest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what we delve into this week:

— Will the Supreme Court nominating panel break the mold or stick with tradition? The TNJ ranks the applicants for the vacancy on the state’s highest court.

— Launched to great fanfare (and no small amount of ridicule), Gov. Bill Lee’s flight voucher giveaway finds few takers.

— Prisoners could become eligible for reduced sentences after lawmakers dropped enhancements for drug dealing within 1,000 feet to 500 feet of schools and playgrounds.

— Lawmakers worry about recouping lost gas taxes from increased electric vehicle purchases.

Also: Lee sees the light (after a delay in illuminating the state Christmas tree), Gardenhire on taking the wrong hill, Robinson sentencing delayed, and the portable toilet fire outside the AG’s office goes to court.

As always, access your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.

Hold the Parsley: Chattanooga lawyer drops state Supreme Court bid

Bob Parsley, a lawyer with the Miller & Martin law firm in Chattanooga, has withdrawn his application to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court caused by the death of Justice Connie Clark.

Parsley was one of 11 attorneys and judges who applied for spot on the bench of the state’s highest court by the Nov. 19 deadline. The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments meets Dec. 8 and 9 to interview the remaining candidates before deciding a slate of three finalists for Gov. Bill Lee to choose from.

Parsley, who heads his firm’s appellate practice group, served as the last clerk hired by the late Justice Frank Drowota in 2004 and 2005.

Here’s who is in the mix for the Tenn. Supreme Court vacancy

The deadline to apply for the Tennessee Supreme Court vacancy was noon Friday. The Tennessee Journal has learned 11 people applied. They are:

  • William Blaylock, chief hearing officer on the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s unemployment appeals tribunal.
  • Sarah Campbell, associate solicitor general and special assistant to the state attorney general.
  • Kristi M. Davis, state Court of Appeals judge.
  • Timothy L. Easter, state Court of Criminal Appeals judge.
  • Kelvin Jones, Nashville circuit judge.
  • W. Neal McBrayer, state Court of Appeals judge.
  • Doug Overbey, former U.S. attorney and state senator.
  • Robert F. Parsley, Chattanooga attorney in private practice.
  • Jonathan T. Skrmetti, chief deputy state attorney general.
  • Gingeree Smith, Smyrna attorney in private practice.
  • Jeffrey Usman, Belmont University law professor.

Process to fill Tenn. Supreme Court vacancy getting underway

Connie Clark

The application process is opening soon for attorneys who want to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The vacancy on the five-member bench was created by the death of Justice Connie Clark on Sept. 24. The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments late last week received official notice of the vacancy from Gov. Bill Lee’s office. The panel plans to interview candidates in the second week of December and then present a slate of three finalists for the govenror to choose from.

Candidates must be at least 35 years old and have lived in Tennessee for five years. No more than two of the five justices can be from one grand division of the state. The current makeup of the court means candidates for the vacancy must come from East or Middle Tenenssee.

Clark was from Williamson County, as is Justice Jeff Bivins. Chief Justice Roger Page and Justice Holly Kirby are from West Tennessee, and Justice Sharon Lee is from the East. Bivins, Page, and Kirby were appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, while Lee and Clark were named to the bench by Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.

Under a 2014 amendment to the state constitution, the General Assemlby can reject the governor’s appointments to appellate courts.

UPDATE from the Administrative Office of the Courts:

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments is now accepting applications for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the passing of Justice Cornelia A. Clark on September 24, 2021.

Any interested applicant must be a licensed attorney who is at least 35 years of age, a resident of the state for five years, and a resident of the Eastern or Middle Tennessee Grand Divisions. Applicants must complete the designated application and submit it to the Administrative Office of the Courts by 12:00 p.m. CST on Friday, November 19th. Applicants should note the AOC must receive all materials by 12:00 p.m. CST and materials in transit that arrive after that time will not be accepted. The application is available on the judicial resources page of tncourts.gov, located here: http://tncourts.gov/administration/judicial-resources

Applicants will be interviewed on either Wednesday, December 8 or Thursday, December 9 at a location to be announced soon.