NASHVILLE -- Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade announced Friday he will retire Sept. 8, a move that gives Gov. Bill Haslam the chance to create the first Republican majority on the state's high court in modern history.
Wade, appointed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2006, was re-elected in August 2014 despite a push by Republican conservative groups seeking to oust him and two other Democratic justices from the five-member court.
"I would like to thank the people of Tennessee who have allowed me to serve since 1975," said Wade, who served as a state appellate judge and trial court judge before being named to the top court.
"I was honored to serve as chief justice during the partisan challenge to the judiciary last year. I am especially grateful to the bench and bar, practically all of whom joined in defense of the principle of a constitutionally based balance of powers among the three branches of government."
Haslam last year did not join the effort by Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the state Senate speaker, and outside groups to defeat Wade and fellow Democratic justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee. All three handily won re-election in a multimillion-dollar battle that drew national attention.
Asked why Wade would raise and spend substantial sums to remain in office, only to leave on his own just a year later, Michele Wojciechowski, a court spokeswoman, said, "He just said he thinks it's time."
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice William "Mickey" Barker of Signal Mountain said in the court's news release that Wade's warmth of personality and leadership skills will be sorely missed.
"My friend and former colleague Gary Wade is one of the finest judges Tennessee has ever produced," Barker said. "His wealth of practical life experiences, together with his keen understanding of the law, has made him invaluable in reaching decisions that affect the lives of individuals in our state."
Retired state Court of Appeals Judge Herschel P. Franks of Chattanooga said he, too, regrets the departure of his friend.
"Justice Wade has served with distinction and honor," Franks said. "His replacement has big shoes to fill, as Justice Wade, through his long career on our appellate courts, has improved the image of our courts through his dedication and exemplary service to the state of Tennessee."
In a statement, Haslam said, "I want to thank Justice Wade for his years of service to Tennessee as a dedicated member of the judiciary. I greatly appreciate Gary's commitment to justice and his love for our state. Tennessee will miss his service on the Supreme Court, and I am grateful for his good work."
The process of replacement was established last year through a state constitutional amendment. Voters agreed to enshrine into law the decades-old practice whereby judges initially are appointed and then run in yes/no retention contests rather than traditional elections.
An appointed panel will interview candidates and offer Haslam three names. The governor can name one, or reject the panel, at which point a second panel would be selected and forwarded. If the governor wishes, he can reject those and name someone else.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.