Special Supreme Court Hears Latest Challenge to the Tennessee Plan - Articles

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Posted by: Lynn Pointer on Oct 1, 2013

By Pat Moskal

Before a packed courtroom on July 19, 2013, a specially-appointed Tennessee Supreme Court heard oral argument in Hooker v. Haslam, et al., No. 2012-01299-SC-R11-CV, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s statutory method of electing appellate judges known as the “Tennessee Plan.” In effect for over forty years, the Tennessee Plan’s use of yes/no retention elections of appellate judges been the subject of multiple lawsuits brought by John Jay Hooker.

A Special Supreme Court was appointed by Governor Haslam to decide the case, since all of the current Supreme Court Justices, each of whom was elected under the current version of the Tennessee Plan, recused himself or herself from hearing the appeal. Sitting for the Special Supreme Court were Special Chief Justice Andrée S. Blumstein and Special Justices Monica N. Wharton, W. Morris Kizer, J. Robert Carter, Jr. and James R. Dedrick.

Hooker, 83, is a Tennessee attorney and a former Democratic candidate for governor. Hooker presented an emotional, and at times humorous, argument while urging the Special Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 decision in State ex rel. Higgins v. Dunn, in which the use of yes/no retention elections for appellate judges was upheld as constitutional.

Deputy Attorney General Janet Klinefelter presented argument on behalf of the State and was joined at counsel table by Solicitor General Bill Young. Relying on the series of cases upholding the constitutionality of the Tennessee Plan, including prior cases filed by Hooker, Klinefelter urged the Special Supreme Court to respect the finality of those decisions.

The case is submitted to the Special Supreme Court for decision.

Pat Moskal is a partner in the firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings in Nashville. She also serves as a member of the TBA Appellate Practice Section Executive Council.