NASHVILLE - A bipartisan group backing the retention of three Tennessee Supreme Court justices says it has raised $600,000 so far as the incumbents seek to fend off a move led by Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey to defeat them.
Keep Tennessee Courts Fair says it "surpassed expectations" by raising the amount quickly. The campaign is supporting Chief Justice Gary Wade and fellow Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee.
The three justices are each up on yes-no votes on the August ballot.
"The outpouring of support from Republican and Democrats who recognize the importance of supporting our Tennessee Constitution is just phenomenal," said Brenda Gadd, Keep Tennessee Courts Fair campaign manager, in a news release. "They know that we must not minimize our Constitution, and that keeping politics out of our courtroom is crucial."
Ramsey and a group of fellow Senate Republicans, including Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, want to defeat all three justices, who were appointed by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.
"I've been accused of bringing partisan politics to an election," Ramsey told attendees last Friday of the Tennessee Republican Party's annual Statesmen's Dinner. "Think that one through for a second."
Ramsey said the effort is "not just about getting Republicans on the Supreme Court even though I do believe there are many, many qualified Republican attorneys who since 1796 have basically been denied the right to serve on our state Supreme Court."
And, he added, "it's not about necessarily electing a Republican attorney general. But I do think that since 1796 through today there's never been a Republican attorney general in this state. And folks it's time that we have a Republican attorney general in the state of Tennessee."
Tennessee is unique among the 50 states in that its state attorney general is not popularly elected or appointed by the governor but is instead filled by the five-member state Supreme Court. The current attorney general is Robert Cooper, a Democrat who once was a top adviser to Bredesen.
But Ramsey's fellow Republicans, Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, aren't joining Ramsey's campaign against the justices. A number of state Republican senators, however, are. Two of them, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, are holding a news conference today in which they are expected to criticize court-related issues.
This year, two other Supreme Court justices, both Republicans, declined to stand for reelection. Ramsey has been critical of several decisions rendered by all five justices and recently said if they had chosen to run, he would be critical of them as well.