Keep politics out of courts; keep the justices

Keep politics out of courts; keep the justices

August 1st, 2014 in Opinion Times

The Tennessee Supreme Court has become an electoral battleground for Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and a group of fellow conservatives, including state house Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville.

The Republicans have been trying to rally Aug. 7 voters to say no to retaining three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who were appointed by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. The justices are Gary Wade, Connie Clark and Sharon Lee.

It's actually an old trick. Conservative politicians launch campaigns intended to ensure the election of judges whose decisions will reflect the "correct" ideology. A North Carolina Supreme Court justice survived a primary earlier this summer when the GOP spent more than $1 million, much of it from out of state, to campaign against her. Now Tennessee is the scene of another conservative onslaught.

This Thursday, Tennesseans will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" on whether to retain the three justices, all Democrats and therefore the target of Ramsey and his ilk.

Your vote should be to "retain" these judges who have, in conservative-backed television ads, been unjustly accused of being soft on crime, advancing Obamacare and furthering pro-abortion efforts.

The reality is that these three justices have never heard a case involving the Affordable Care Act. Federal courts did. Nor did they have anything to do with a 2000 case that made abortion a "fundamental right." Retired Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Mickey Barker of Signal Mountain points out that he was the lone opposing vote in that 4-1 decision and the other four justices who did further that case are dead or retired. "Blaming them [Clark, Lee, Wade] for something that's happened with the previous court is simply wrong," Barker recently told Times Free Press reporter Andy Sher.

And soft on crime? Not according to state district attorneys. A bipartisan group of state prosecutors has come forward in support of the justices, saying they have "outstanding records and deserve to be retained." The fact is these justices "... have upheld almost 90 percent of death penalty cases. They are not soft on crime," 15th Judicial District Attorney General Tom P. Thompson Jr. said.

But heaven forbid that conservatives -- especially Ramsey, McCormick and Rice, let facts get in the way of partisan politicking.

That politicking is nearly the most laughable lie in all of this. The conservative chant in this campaign to oust the judges is "Let's keep politics out of the court." Apparently Ramsey and his boys think we're too dumb to know they are saying one thing and doing the other. They are the ones trying to insert politics into courts.

If Ramsey and crew can generate enough interest with incomplete and unfair insinuations to swing a no-retention vote, Gov. Bill Haslam -- who seems likely to win re-election -- would appoint new justices.

And new justices would appoint the next Tennessee Attorney General. And that's what this campaign is really all about.

Ramsey and some Republicans are furious with current Attorney General Robert Cooper (a Democrat who once was a top adviser to Bredesen) for, among other reasons, not having joined with mostly Republican state attorneys general in suing to block the federal Affordable Care Act. The case was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tennessee is unique among the 50 states in that its state attorney general is not elected, but instead filled by the state Supreme Court. Our Volunteer State forefathers thought it best to keep the attorney general separated from partisan elections and partisan politics in the governor's office and the legislature.

Ramsey's effort proves exactly why this is important.

Put simply, Ramsey wants a Republican Supreme Court and a Republican attorney general.

But that's not how courts work. The judicial system is the portion of our government that is designed to be the balance to partisan politics.

Let's keep it that way. Retain the Supreme

Court justices.