By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — Don’t waste your time and energy fretting over whether to retain three Tennessee Supreme Court justices in an Aug. 7 election, said Tennessee political legend John Jay Hooker.
“All of that is just a political ploy,” Hooker, 84, told Tennessee Watchdog this week.
Hidden beneath the superficial layers of this retention election, Hooker told Tennessee Watchdog, is a much deeper, more troubling concern, one voters are scheduled to have a say on later this year.
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, appointed justices Gary Wade, Connie Clark and Sharon Lee to the bench, and, after having served eight years, they are now up for a retention election by voters, as are Court of Appeals judges.
That process doesn’t exactly abide by the Tennessee Constitution, as written in 1870, Hooker said.
“The state constitution says that judges shall be elected by the qualified voters. It’s pretty hard to misunderstand that language,” Hooker said.
“My view is that the retention election statute is unconstitutional, blatantly on its face and that the judges who sit on the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court know it, yet they sit there anyway,” Hooker said.
Hooker, a Democrat, twice served as that party’s gubernatorial candidate. He considered Bobby Kennedy one of this closest friends, and even lived at Kennedy’s house for nine months. Hooker was also close with Martin Luther King Jr.
Hooker’s deeply liberal stance on civil rights in the 1960s cost him a great deal of popularity, he said, and likely kept him from becoming governor.
But he told Tennessee Watchdog he has at least one more battle in him and it matters not to him who’s a Democrat or who’s a Republican.
“I’d rather win this fight than have been governor of Tennessee twice.”
Everyone else, including the media, seemingly dwells on whether voters will retain the state Supreme Court justices, all Democrats, next month.
Hooker, who doesn’t believe the three justices will win retention given the state’s solidly red political landscape, instead has his sights set on Nov. 4, when voters will decide the fate of what is known as Amendment 2, which he doesn’t like.
If voters approve it, the state’s governor, according to Ballotpedia.org, would appoint judges to the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, with confirmation from the General Assembly.
After serving an eight year-term, the judges, as they do now, could only seek another term through a retention election by voters, similar to what will take place Aug. 7.
The Tennessee Bar Association supports Amendment 2.
No one at the TBA immediately returned requests for comment Tuesday, but, according to the TBA website, Amendment 2 will result in the best-qualified candidates becoming judges.
“Failure to pass Amendment 2 could also lead to contested, partisan elections for appellate judges, which would bring the corrupting factor of money and politics into our appellate courts,” according to the TBA’s website.
“Tennesseans should choose our own appellate judges rather than groups with limitless funds who engage in negative campaign ads rather than addressing the actual qualifications of those on the ballot.”
Hooker has had his share of unpleasantness with the TBA.
“They have tried to ridicule me. They say I bring frivolous lawsuits. They say I don’t know what I’m talking about,” Hooker said.
“They suspended my law license at one time for 30 days. ‘If you challenge us we will get you too.’ This raw power is obnoxious. It’s a great honor in the twilight of my life to stand up and complain about it.”
Hooker complains that members of his own party, working to serve their own benefit 40 years ago, gave the governor the power to appoint judges, whereupon they would run again eight years later.
“There is no way to read the state Constitution to mean that the Legislature has the authority to say they shall be appointed by the governor,” Hooker said.
“That is what the fight has been about, and I’ve been in that fight for all of these years.”
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