Tag Archives: john jay hooker

Legislators hear passionate pleas for and against assisted suicide

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Longtime civil rights activist John Jay Hooker pleaded before a state Senate committee on Tuesday for a bill to allow physician-assisted suicide.

The 84-year-old former Democratic nominee for governor has terminal cancer. He showed up at the meeting of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee in a wheelchair and at times struggled to catch his breath. But he spoke passionately about the issue, calling it “the most important thing I’ve ever done.”

Hooker said he first came to the Capitol 57 years ago as a young lawyer to prosecute a judge.

“I was here then on behalf of justice. I’m here now on behalf of mercy,” he said.

Political luminaries including former Gov. Winfield Dunn and former Speaker of the House Jimmy Naifeh attended the committee hearing, where Hooker presented physician-assisted suicide as a constitutional right.

“If we have the power to seek happiness, guaranteed by our own constitution, then we have the power to take our own lives when they become no longer tolerable,” he said.
Continue reading

Senate panel schedules hearing on ‘death with dignity’ bill

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday on “death with dignity” legislation advocated by terminally-ill activist John Jay Hooker, it was announced yesterday. Further, from the Tennessean:

“The bill was moved to summer study by a vote of the committee at the request of the sponsor, Sen. (Reginald) Tate, and that is what brings us to the upcoming hearing,” said committee Chairman Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City.

“The bill was presented to us on the last day of our committee meetings, and we did not have sufficient time to fully air the philosophical and policy concerns regarding the legislation.”

The controversial topic, also termed the “right to die” bill, received some debate during this year’s legislative session. Tennessee law makes it a felony for a doctor to help a person commit suicide. Supporters of the bill, including longtime political activist John Jay Hooker, argue that law violates the state constitution, and terminally ill patients should have the ability to choose how they die.

Note: See also WPLN’s report, which includes this:
“It’s a barbaric thing to do to tell a man who suffering that he’s got to continue to suffer,” Hooker said in a telephone interview. “And the question is whether or not the government should tell you when you can die or whether you ought to be able to tell yourself.”

Only three states have approved right-to-die laws. Tennessee legislators put off the bill during the spring legislative session but could take it up again next year.

John Jay Hooker’s last lawsuit (?) seeks right to die with doctor assistance

John Jay Hooker, terminally ill after decades of political and legal crusades, has filed a lawsuit contending that he has a right to assisted suicide under the Tennessee constitution, reports The Tennessean.

Hooker, 84, urged legislators earlier this year to change state law to permit assisted suicide. The bill was assigned to “summer study,” with Hooker urging that the study begin in May because he is not sure he will still be alive later in the year. No “summer study” hearing has yet been scheduled.

In the lawsuit filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, Hooker is challenging a state law that makes it a felony for a doctor or another person to assist in someone’s death.

Hooker recites part of the first article of the state constitution from memory, focusing on one line: “Power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness.”

“If I’m in a state to die, it’s just a question of what day and what month, and my happiness is involved, do I want to sit there in bed and be the prisoner of that pain?” Hooker said. “Does the government have the right to tell me I can’t check out of this hotel? I say the government can’t tell the people they can’t do something that is in pursuit of their own happiness, and that doesn’t involve anyone else.”

He also argues there is no difference between a doctor taking away machines that support life and administering medications that end it.

Three doctors joined with Hooker to bring the case: Hooker’s physician, Dr. Jeffrey Sosman of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center; Dr. W. Barton Campbell, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center; and Dr. Robert Ballard, who Hooker said is in private practice in Memphis.

The lawsuit names Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, Gov. Bill Haslam and Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk.

…He was diagnosed with terminal cancer and says his fight for euthanasia is not just for himself. He pledged to continue to advocate for the issue in the legislature, where a bill stalled this year that would have allowed doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to a “mentally competent adult.”

UPDATE/NOTE: Hooker says his cancer has spread throughout his body and he doesn’t have much time left, according to WTVF. He’s asked for an expedited hearing on this lawsuit.

John Jay Hooker plans a final fight for ‘death with dignity’

At age 84, John Jay Hooker is facing terminal illness and plans to dedicate his remaining months to pushing for passage of legislation allowing Tennesseans to choose how they die, according to Frank Daniels III.

“It is the ultimate civil right,” John Jay said, “to be able to die with dignity, while you still have some choice in the matter.”

Only three states — Oregon, whose citizens passed a law in 1994 and re-confirmed the vote in 1997; Washington, whose voters passed a law in 2008; and Vermont, whose legislature enacted a doctor-assisted suicide law in 2013 — allow terminally-ill citizens to choose when they die.

Hooker knows that it will be a difficult fight, but wants Tennessee to be the fourth state.

…On Jan. 6, John Jay told me that he was going to see the doctor about a lump on his arm.

A few days later, he told me the grave news.

“It’s malignant melanoma, and it’s terminal,” he said. He was in surprisingly good spirits.

“Well,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice, “I have standing.”

John Jay was referring to his frequent battles in Tennessee courts over the constitutionality of the way we used to choose appellate judges, and how the Attorney General would argue that Hooker had no standing before the court.

Last week, Hooker began telling friends that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and that he wanted to dedicate his remaining months to passing a Tennessee Death with Dignity law, and suing for the right to choose the time of his death.

Thursday, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, filed a caption bill to start the process in support of Hooker’s effort. Fitzhugh is a deacon in his Baptist church and has deep misgivings about death with dignity laws, according to his chief policy advisor, Zachary Kelley.

But, Kelley said, Fitzhugh’s respect for Hooker and his fights on behalf of civil rights outweighed the minority leader’s personal feelings.

Passing the legislation will be a long shot, but Hooker would not know what do to with an easy battle anyway.

“I want to be engaged, and vital, and when I can’t be engaged in the debate, then it will be time for me to go,” John Jay says. “And I want to be able to make that choice — when the time comes.”

Note: It appears the caption bill mentioned is HB887, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis.

Hooker: Don’t count amendment votes of those who skip governor’s race

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As if Tennessee’s lengthy process for amending the state constitution weren’t complicated enough, independent gubernatorial candidate John Jay Hooker is now raising concerns that the method for counting the votes does not pass constitutional muster.

The longstanding interpretation of the state constitution has been that in order to be ratified, proposed amendments must receive a majority of the number of votes cast in the governor’s race.

But Hooker, who is one of the leading opponent of efforts to write the state’s plan for merit selection of appeals judges into the Tennessee Constitution, argued in a letter to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday that only voters who cast actual ballots in the governor’s race should be able to have their votes counted on the amendments.

According to language of the Tennessee Constitution, voters must “approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor.”

The secretary of state’s office is unpersuaded by Hooker’s argument, said spokesman Blake Fontenay.

“Whether people vote in the governor’s race doesn’t affect their eligibility to vote on the amendments,” he said.

Hooker’s letter follows the creation of an online campaign urging Tennessee voters to skip over the governor’s election as a way to help pass another proposed constitutional amendment that would give lawmakers more power to regulate abortion in the state.

The website explains that fewer votes for governor mean fewer votes will be necessary to pass the amendment. Groups supporting the abortion amendment have disavowed any knowledge of the website promoting the voting scheme.

Hooker is also demanding the resignation of Chief Justice Sharon Lee for sending a letter to lawyers around the state urging support of the merit selection amendment. He argued in a legal filing with the high court that Lee violated rules banning judges from using their office to further personal “economic interest.”
Continue reading

Ruminations on retention election aftermath: Distrust of legislature, impeachment next?

A couple of articles, from different perspectives, on the victory of three Supreme Court justices despite an effort to unseat them led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey:

From Frank Cagle:
I think people resented and feared a Republican supermajority in the Legislature deciding who should or shouldn’t be an appeals court judge.

Do we want one branch of government to be at the beck and call of another? Do we want an independent judiciary or do we want lackeys doing the legislature’s bidding? Afraid to make the right ruling under the law and the constitution because it might not be politically popular with your masters?

I think that was the message of this election.

Which brings us to Amendment Two on the ballot in November. This amendment puts into the constitution that the Supreme Court, and appeals court justices, will be appointed by the governor and will be ratified by the state Legislature. Currently that would mean Gov. Bill Haslam would nominate members of the court and then a legislative committee, the Senate version stacked with people appointed by Ramsey, will decide their qualifications.

In other words, you don’t get to be an appellate court justice unless Ramsey approves.

…If the amendment passes, you are giving up your right to vote for Supreme Court Justices because the current appointment of judges will be enshrined in the constitution. With the added requirement that the legislators must ratify the choice.

I’m sure the take-away that judges have from this election is that the political campaign to oust them was difficult and that if they face election it will be introducing politics into the process. I would submit that it would have been easier for the judges to run against “somebody” instead of nobody. And in this day and age, if retention elections continue, you can expect political spending by some group to oust you.

The only way for the state appellate court justices to be a free and independent branch of government is to be elected by the people, like legislators and the governor. The defeat of Amendment Two clears the way to reestablish the election of judges. A yes vote precludes that ever happening.
Continue reading

Sunday column: For an old politician, Alexander is doing OK

In the decades that I’ve paid attention to Tennessee politics, things have pretty much turned upside down insofar as the partisan alignment is concerned and, for that matter, insofar as the specific people involved are concerned — except, of course, Lamar Alexander and John Jay Hooker.

And maybe they’ve changed somewhat, too.

Personal disclosure note: I was paying attention back in 1970, the year I graduated from the University of Tennessee, having worked while in college for United Press International in its Knoxville bureau after a working-student stint on the News-Sentinel’s copy desk before that. My attention was diverted somewhat by being drafted into the U.S. Army late that year.

In 1970, Hooker was the Democratic nominee for governor, and Alexander left his job in the Nixon White House to return to his home state and serve as campaign manager for Winfield Dunn, a politically-unknown Memphis dentist who was the Republican nominee for governor. Dunn won.

Today, Dunn, 87, is retired from politics, except for serving as a gentlemanly senior statesman of sorts. Hooker, 84, is not retired from politics. He has run for office repeatedly since 1970, winning the Democratic nomination for governor for a second time in 1998, and he’s running for governor again this year, this time as an Independent.

And, curiously, Hooker, accurately labeled a liberal on many social issues, has become almost a folk hero for some of the state’s most politically conservative citizens as he crusades on the subject of picking the state’s top judges. He’s also derided as a “gadfly,” or worse, by many others on a bipartisan basis.
Continue reading