Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) selected Sarah K. Campbell as his nominee to fill the vacant seat on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Lee’s announcement came on Jan. 12 after consideration of the three finalists put forward by the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments: Campbell and Tennessee Court of Appeals Judges Kristi Davis and William Neal McBrayer. Campbell will succeed Justice Cornelia Clark, who passed away from cancer on Sep. 24. Campbell is Lee’s first nominee to the five-member supreme court.
Under Tennessee law, state supreme court justices are selected by the governor with help from a nominating commission. The nominee must then be confirmed by the Tennessee State Legislature. While Tennessee state law changed in 2014 to eliminate the judicial nominating commission and require legislative approval of the governor’s appointee, Gov. Bill Haslam’s Executive Order No. 54 and Lee’s subsequent Executive Order No. 87 re-established the judicial nominating commission for appointments. Accordingly, Tennessee’s process is effectively assisted appointment with legislative confirmation.
Before her nomination to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Campbell worked as the state of Tennessee’s associate solicitor general and special assistant to the attorney general. Her career experience includes working at the Washington, D.C. law firm Williams & Connolly LLP and clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and 11th Circuit Judge William Pryor.
Campbell earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee and master’s and J.D. degrees from Duke University.
In 2021, there were 19 supreme court vacancies in 17 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 16 of those 29 vacancies have been filled. So far in 2022, there have been four announced supreme court vacancies.