Tennessee Supreme Court justice’s death leaves vacancy

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark passed away from cancer on Sept. 24. Her death created one vacancy on the five-member supreme court. Clark’s replacement will be Gov. Bill Lee’s (R) first nominee to the court.

Under Tennessee law, midterm vacancies on the supreme court are filled via gubernatorial appointment with legislative approval. The appointed justice must stand for retention in the next general election to remain on the bench. Upon winning the retention election, the justice serves a full eight-year term.

Clark was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2005 by Gov. Phil Bredesen (D). She was subsequently elected to full eight-year terms in 2006 and 2014. In 2010, she became the second woman in Tennessee history to serve as chief justice of the court. She served in that role until 2012.

Before her appointment to the supreme court, Clark’s career experience included working as the director of the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, as a circuit court judge in the 21st Judicial District, and as an attorney in private practice with Farris, Warfield & Kanaday (now Stites & Harbison).

Clark earned a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University in 1971, a master’s degree from Harvard University in 1972, and a J.D. from Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1979.

Following Clark’s death, the Tennessee Supreme Court includes the following members:

  • Jeff Bivins, appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam (R) in 2014
  • Holly Kirby, appointed by Haslam in 2013
  • Sharon Lee, appointed by Bredesen in 2008
  • Roger A. Page, appointed by Haslam in 2016

In 2021, there have been 17 supreme court vacancies in 15 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Sixteen of the vacancies have been caused by retirements, and one vacancy was caused by a justice’s death.

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