Editorial: Wade and colleagues should get another Supreme Court term

Jul. 22, 2014 @ 02:37 PM

If you treasure a government with separated powers, where balance between the legislative, executive and judicial branches maintains a fragile system of checks and balances, cast a vote to retain the Tennessee Supreme Court Justices on Aug. 7.

If, instead, you'd prefer members of the legislature wield their power — with help from national politicos — to stack the deck of another branch of government in their favor, choose not to retain them.

In case you haven't heard, Sevierville native and one-time mayor Gary Wade, the current Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice, is up for retention in the upcoming election, along with a pair of his colleagues, Justice Connie Clark and Justice Sharon Lee.

In Tennessee, appointed appellate judges, including Norma Ogle, another good local judge with positive judicial reviews, are up for a keep-or-not-keep vote every eight years. 

Wade's been a model justice. Since being appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, in September 2006, after many years on the Court of Appeals, Wade has done his job, and he's done it well.

When's the last time you remember hearing controversy from the Tennessee Supreme Court? There's a reason for that. These justices don't grandstand. They rule based on their interpretation of the Tennessee Constitution and prior case law.

A simple review of the justices' ratings and reviews from the state's Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission shows just that.

Wade, who seems to be the primary target of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey's campaign to replace the judges, earned the highest marks of any of the justices in those reviews — a sterling 4.71 out of 5. That score was better than 86 percent of the appellate judges across the state.

To make that review even more convincing, consider this: the reviewers themselves were selected by Lt. Gov. Ramsey — the very person pushing hardest for Wade's removal from office.

Why? The Tennessee Supreme Court appoints the state's attorney general. Ramsey wants his kind of Republican.

"This is an opportunity for a group ... that wants to have a Republican, pro-business, anti-crime attorney general to elect them in a relatively cheap way," Ramsey told News Channel 5 in Nashville investigative reporter Phil Williams when discussing his attempts to convince business leaders to bankroll the campaign to remove Wade and his colleagues.

Even some Republicans have been turned off by the political tone of this year's retention election — which had been something of a rubber stamp in the past.

Of course many prominent local Republicans — Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters and Sheriff Ron Seals among them — have endorsed Wade's retainment bid.

But other statewide Republicans and conservatives are standing up for the current Supreme Court, based on both their performance and on the principle that special interest and partisan politics should not invade the judiciary.

Retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Mickey Barker of Chattanooga has appeared in a recent commercial: “Although I’m a Republican, politics has no place in our courts. But now, out-of-state special interests are trying to take over our Supreme Court,” Barker says, telling voters to cast a vote for retention.

Even Lloyd Daugherty, the chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union and a friend of Ramsey, has endorsed Wade.

"We've been proud of our original endorsement of Gary Wade, and he has kept his word to me that he would go by the constitution no matter whether he agreed or disagreed with it, including upholding the death penalty," Daugherty said.

"When our friends give us their word and keep it, we don't endorse someone else, just because they are of a different party," he continued. "We've backed conservative Democrats in the past, and (Wade is) one of them ... Gary Wade is a Democrat Ronald Reagan would have loved."

That's a strong endorsement that should mean something to conservatives who might consider voting against Wade because of Ramsey's efforts.

Wade's done excellent work on our Supreme Court, and he and his fellow justices should be viewed for their records — not for their political affiliations.

The judiciary is bigger than that. It's bigger than partisan politics, and it should be bigger than campaign money from outside the state's borders.

Tennesseans should choose to retain our justices.