NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade has recused himself in the case of two white applicants who claimed they were discriminated against by Gov. Phil Bredesen during the process of finding a Supreme Court justice.
"My own nomination and eventual appointment as an associate justice is a part of the history of this litigation," Wade wrote in an order. "While I hold no preconceived opinions regarding the merits of the issues presented and have no reservations about exercising my duty under the law, it is my desire to avoid even the appearance of impropriety."
Two court vacancies were created with the Aug. 31 retirements of justices Riley Anderson and Adolpho A. Birch Jr., Bredesen appointed Wade on June 6 to succeed Anderson, but the remaining vacancy sparked the litigation involving who is eligible to fill the fifth seat on the court.
Anderson will take Wade's spot on the bench during oral arguments, which will be heard Feb. 1.
J. Houston Gordon and George T. 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.