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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Courts - News from Tennessee about same-sex marriage and retention elections

"String of same-sex marriage rulings broken" was the heading to Lyle Denniston's SCOTUSblog post Monday. It begins [emphasis by ILB]:

For the first time in nearly fourteen months, a state’s ban on same-sex marriage has withstood a constitutional challenge in court. A state judge in Tennessee ruled last week that “neither the Federal Government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state’s responsibility.” The decision, issued last Tuesday, has just become available in electronic format.

Roane County Circuit Judge Russell E. Simmons, Jr., of Kingston ruled in a case of two gay men who were married four years ago in Iowa and are now seeking a divorce in their home state of Tennessee. Unlike every other court ruling — federal or state — since the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor in June 2013, the judge rejected the idea that the Windsor decision undercut state authority to ban same-sex marriages.

SCOTUSblog includes a link to the 7-page opinion. The county court decision is dated Aug. 5th.

Two days later, on August 7th, the voters of Tennessee would decide on whether or not to retain three Tennessee Supreme Court justices. From a lengthy Aug. 6th story in the LA Times by Maya Srikrishnan:

Most elections to retain Tennessee Supreme Court justices are bland affairs, but this year, Tennesseans have been inundated with mailings, vicious campaign ads and more than $1 million of in- and out-of-state money for the battle over three of the fives seats on the high court.

The three justices in question -- Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee -- have been put on the defensive, battling accusations that they are too soft on crime, especially on death penalty cases, and too liberal for Tennessee. * * *

The big push against them has come from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican and head of the state Senate, who provided the blueprint for the campaign to replace the three justices. Ramsey’s political action committee gave the largest recorded campaign contribution — more than $400,000 -- to a conservative group called the Tennessee Forum. The forum sponsored a broadcast ad that says, “Break the monopoly. Replace this liberal court.”

From a long Aug. 5th story in the NY Times by Alan Binder:
Conservatives with ambitions to reshape courts across the country say the results in Tennessee could give their efforts a burst of confidence. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group, plans to spend at least $5 million on judicial races this year in places like North Carolina, where more than half of the state’s Supreme Court seats are on the ballot. Conservatives are also closely following races in Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas. * * *

In Tennessee, governors appoint Supreme Court justices with the assistance of a nominating commission. Those justices are subject to retention elections soon after they join the court, as well as public votes at the end of every eight-year term. * * *

In Tennessee, conservatives see an opportunity to shift the balance of power on Tennessee’s five-member court. By early September, two justices appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, will be on the Supreme Court. If the critics of the justices on the August ballot can remove just one, Mr. Haslam, who has not campaigned against the jurists, will have an opportunity to name a third person to the Supreme Court bench.

“Success on Election Day is winning one because that flips the complexion of the court,” Mr. Walter said.

An Aug. 7th story by Brian Haas in The Tennessean, however, is headlined "Tennesseans vote to retain Supreme Court justices." Some quotes:
In a major defeat for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, voters on Thursday voted to keep all three Tennessee Supreme Court justices in retention elections.

Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee all survived to win new eight-year terms on the state's highest court, maintaining a margin of about 57 percent to 43 percent. While the justices were able to overcome a vigorous opposition campaign by Ramsey and others, who accused them of being "liberal," "soft on crime" and of helping Obamacare, their retention victories were by some of the smallest margins in recent history.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 12, 2014 12:55 PM
Posted to Courts in general