On Haslam Appointing Judges to Hear Lawsuit on Haslam Appointing Judges

Gov. Bill Haslam is a designated defendant in John Jay Hooker’s latest lawsuit on challenging the legality of the state system for selecting appeals court judges which, of course, involves the governor appointing judges.
Now the regular state Supreme Court judges have recused themselves from hearing Hooker’s appeal of the case – and Haslam has appointed five special Supreme Court judges to replace them. Is that a conflict of interest?
TNReport reports:
“We talked with our legal counsel about that,” the governor said after a higher education discussion at Scripps Network in Knoxville Tuesday.
“If the existing Supreme Court recuses themselves, somebody has to appoint them and that’s the governor’s role under the Constitution in the state of Tennessee,” he said.
The matter has been simmering in the background for years, with Hooker, an outlying but ever-enduring fixture on Tennessee’s political scene, tending the flame. The subject of judicial elections has taken on renewed prominence in the past couple years, as many majority-party Republican lawmakers have said they are committed to reconciling the practice of selecting judges with the state Constitution, which they see as at odds with one another.
Hooker told TNReport this week he knew from the get-go Haslam would have to choose members for the special court. But he says he has the right to question and challenge those appointments, for example that of William Barker, a retired Supreme Court justice.
“How can he possibly be impartial in the matter?” Hooker said. “He’s got a vested interest.
What is the difference in his interest as a former member of the Supreme Court or the sitting member on the Supreme Court?”
The court system so far has no timeline for when the case would be heard, according to Casey Mahoney, the court system spokeswoman.
House Speaker Beth Harwell is also named in the lawsuit. Her office says there’s nothing worrisome about the governor appointing judges on the court to hear the case.
“It is a statutory duty of the governor to appoint a special state Supreme Court in instances such as this, and literally no one else in the state is given such authority,” said spokeswoman Kara Owen. “There is no reason to expect that this panel would be anything but fair and impartial in the proceedings.”

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