Tenn. SC vacancy search narrowed to three

John O'Brien Apr. 16, 2007, 1:00pm


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - After months of controversy, Gov. Phil Bredesen finally appears ready to choose Tennessee's next Supreme Court justice.

Friday, the Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission selected three candidates from a field of 16 to submit to Bredesen. Those chosen were Circuit Judge D'Army Bailey of Memphis, Court of Appeals Judge William C. Koch Jr. of Nashville and Circuit Judge C. Creed McGinley of Savannah

It is the third group of three sent to Bredesen. Bailey was on the last panel, which Bredesen rejected because it also included George Lewis and Houston Gordon, two men who were rejected by Bredesen from the first panel.

They were rejected from that panel because it did not feature a black candidate, on which Bredesen insisted. The original third candidate withdrew for family reasons. The Supreme Court recently decided that Bredesen had not discriminated against the two white applicants by refusing to consider them for the opening.

Lewis and Gordon argued that Bredesen's refusal to allow them to be considered on a second three-person panel of candidates after the first one was refused because the lone black candidate dropped out violated the Tennessee Human Rights Act.

When the third candidate - Davidson County Chancellor Richard Dinkins -- withdrew his name, Bredesen asked for a new list of candidates because he wanted one with a minority on it. Dinkins was the lone black person on the first panel.

The second panel that was submitted again featured Gordon and Lewis and added D'Army Bailey, who is black. However, Bredesen refused the list, claiming candidates who were already rejected (Lewis and Gordon) could not be resubmitted.

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle agreed with Bredesen, and the Judicial Selection Committee planned a Jan. 24 meeting to pick the new third candidate, who would join Bailey and Judge William Koch (of the state's Court of Appeals).

That left out Gordon and Lewis, who decided to ask that the appointment be stayed until their discrimination claim could be worked out. Gordon is an attorney practicing in Covington, and Lewis, nicknamed "Buck," is the vice president of the Tennessee Bar Association.

The Court also decided that Gordon and Lewis may not apply for the job again.

Justice Gary Wade recused himself from hearing the case because, "My own nomination and eventual appointment as an associate justice is a part of the history of this litigation."

Wade filled one of the two spots last year that were created when justices Riley Anderson and Adolpho Birch retired. Anderson took Wade's spot during the hearing.

Tennessee's Supreme Court has the unique power of appointing the state's attorney general rather than having voters decide. In November, the Court chose Robert Cooper for an eight-year term to replace Paul Summers. Cooper represented Bredesen in the case.

More News