A political television ad asks viewers where is “the most liberal place in Tennessee?” but one of its members said Tuesday “I don’t know where that liberal place is. I have not found it in Tennessee yet.”
That “place” referred to in the ad is the Tennessee Supreme Court and the member wondering is Justice Sharon Lee.
She is one of the three justices of the five-member court who face a yes or no vote about continuing or being retained on the court for another eight years.
The question has touched off a furious television campaign that has the justices answering ads funded by a group called Tennessee Forum.
Its president, Susan Kaestner, defended the “most liberal place” tag by telling News 2 that Lee and the other two justices up for retention, Connie Clark and Gary Wade, “are certainly more liberal than the values of Tennesseans would reflect.”
Others supportive of the three justices ouster have told News 2 the governor is a Republican, both the state House and Senate are overwhelmingly Republican, so “the judiciary should reflect that.”
The three justices up for retention were appointed by former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen.
“They have the majority on the bench. They have controlled the power of the judiciary for 144 years. I can’t fathom an argument against that,” says Kaestner.
One of her group’s ads says the Tennessee Supreme Court has been “liberal on crime.”
The justices counter with television ads paid for by the Committee to Retain Justice Clark, the Committee to Retain Justice Lee and the Friends of Gary Wade.
“Conservative on crime and upheld 90% of death sentences” says their ad to counter the liberal tag.
The justices are also addressing the issue in news conferences. Tuesday in Nashville before the city’s Historic Courthouse, Justice Clark said the Tennessee Forum ads “are using emotion words that I presume have been tested, so they will stir up emotions in folks.”
The Tennessee Forum ad also accuses the Tennessee Supreme Court of “advancing Obamacare.” Kaestner defends that by saying the justices by law appoint the state Attorney General.
The court’s last selection was current Attorney General Robert Cooper, who had ties to former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen’s campaign.
Cooper decided against joining lawsuits against Obamacare brought by about half of the nation’s state Attorneys General.
Kaestner says the only way recourse for voters to change such an action is to oust the members of Tennessee Supreme Court who appointed Cooper.
“There is no other accountability we have for an attorney general, who is not behaving or making decisions in a manner that is consistent with the value of Tennesseans,” she added.
The two justices in their news conference Tuesday echoed what’s been in the ads countering the Tennessee Forum commercials.
“The Tennessee Supreme Court does not rule on federal issues, we never have and never will rule on the health care act,” said Justice Lee. “Its another attempt to mislead the voters.”
Justice Clark said “I think the ads are being pitched as they are because there is nothing in our record that can be legitimately attacked.”
Not since 1996 has a Tennessee Supreme Court justice been ousted.
In that year it was Penny Clark, who was accused by opponents of being soft on crime.
Both the justices and and the Tennessee Forum’s Kaestner sounded optimistic about the the outcome Thursday.
Justice Clark said Tennesseans “will vote in a good way, while Kaestner added she “was pretty positive.”
- July 20, 2014: Fight ramps up over Supreme Court justice vote