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Tennessee Bar Association, Democrats Urge Legislature To End Push To Remove Judge Over Absentee Ballot Ruling

March 2, 2021 – WPLN by: Sergio Martinez-Beltran – A new proposal in the Tennessee House of Representatives that seeks to remove a Nashville judge is receiving push back from the state’s lawyers and judges, as well as House Democrats.

House Resolution 23 was introduced last week by state Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro. It authorizes the House and Senate speakers to appoint a joint committee to consider the removal of Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle. Rudd’s resolution — which has been signed by 67 out of 73 House Republicans — cites as a reason for her removal a ruling made last year by Lyle that allowed for non-excused absentee voting during the August primaries due to the pandemic. The Tennessee Supreme Court later overturned the ruling, but only after the state changed its position to allow people with pre-existing conditions to vote by mail.

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Bar Association — the organization that represents lawyers and judges in the state — came out against the proposal. “We believe House Resolution 23 will have a chilling effect on the administration of justice in our State, and threatens the bedrock principle of separation of powers, which lies at the core of Tennessee’s system of government,” the organization said in a statement.

Article VI, Section 6 of the Tennessee Constitution outlines the process to remove a judge — which includes a vote of two-thirds of the members in each chamber. But the Tennessee Bar said no judge has been removed for their rulings.

“HR 23, if successful, will create a precedent that any time a judge rules against the state, or on a statute, or renders a politically unpopular decision, that decision could potentially trigger legislative removal proceedings against that judge,” the bar said. “This also results in the potential for removing a judge any time a ruling is overturned on appeal, when in fact the act of the appeal is a clear measure that the legal process is working appropriately.”

Opposition to the measure is also coming from Democrats in the Tennessee legislature. In a news conference Tuesday, Nashville Rep. John Ray Clemmons said the move by the Republicans is purely political, and it also represents the “brazen attitude of as supermajority that refuses to accept that they are wrong at times.” Clemmons described the resolution as unconstitutional because Lyle has not committed or been charged with any crime.

The last time a judge was removed in Tennessee was in the early 1990s. Memphis Chancery Judge David W. Lanier was booted after being convicted of federal charges stemming from accusations that he sexually preyed on women who worked for him or who had to appear in front of his court.

Still, Republican leaders in the Tennessee House are defending their position on removing Judge Lyle. In an email to WPLN News Tuesday, a spokesman for House Speaker Cameron Sexton said the speaker “believes there needs to be a strong discussion and debate within the General Assembly as to whether Chancellor Lyle’s actions during the last election cycle were an effort to legislate from the bench.”

Meanwhile, no senator has filed a companion resolution yet. A spokesman for Senate Speaker Randy McNally said he has not reviewed the House resolution.



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