Tennessee Supreme Court puts halt on selection process

By John O'Brien | Jan 3, 2007


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee's Supreme Court decided Wednesday to hear the complaints of two white applicants for the vacant Supreme Court Justice position who claim they were discriminated against by Gov. Phil Bredesen.

J. Houston Gordon and George T. Lewis now have until Jan. 12 to file their briefs against Bredesen, and a hearing is scheduled for Feb. 1.

"This case, involving the process for appointing this Court's fifth justice, is indisputably a case of 'unusual public importance in which there is a special need for expedited decision,'" the Court ruled.

"The case also meets two of the criteria set out in the reach-down statute -- the case appears to involve both 'the right to hold ... public office' and 'issues of constitutional law.' Given the importance of resolving in a timely manner the legal questions at issue in this appeal, it is difficult to conceive of a more appropriate case in which to exercise this Court's discretion to assume jurisdiction over an appeal pursuant to the reach-down statute. Accordingly, the Court finds that the motions are well-taken and should be granted."

Gordon and Lewis were part of a panel of three candidates sent by the Tennessee Judicial Selection Committee to Bredesen for the purpose of picking the new justice. 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 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.

According to JSC Chairman Dale Tuttle, there are 13 candidates to fill the remaining spot in the third panel. They are: Frank G. Clement, Jr. (Nashville); David O. Day (Baxter); Steve R. Dozier (Brentwood); John T. Fowlkes (Memphis); Sean Antone Hunt (Germantown); Andrei Ellen Lee (Nashville); C. Creed McGinley (Savannah); J.C. McLin (Memphis); Russell Taylor Perkins (Whites Creek); Nathan B. Pride (Jackson); Stephanie R. Reevers (Antioch); Lillie Ann Sells (Cookeville); and Steven R. Walker (Memphis).

"In light of the Jan. 3 order of the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission's Jan. 24 meeting will not be held. The Commission will reschedule the meeting following the Court's decision," Tuttle said.

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.

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