Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark Dies at 71
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark, who held the post for 16 years and was the second woman to serve as the court’s chief justice, has died of cancer. She was 71 years old.
The Tennessee Supreme Court announced his death on Friday morning.
Clark, known as Connie, was appointed to the state’s Supreme Court in 2005 by former Governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, who survived a Republican-led campaign in 2014 to prevent it, as well as two other judges, to remain on the ground.
“Justice Clark has been a member of the Tennessee judicial family for over 30 years and has mentored hundreds of judges,” Chief Justice Roger A. Page said in a statement Friday.
“She loved the Tennessee court system and improved it immeasurably. As a colleague for five and a half years, I have observed his formidable work ethic. His quick wit was surpassed only by his benevolent and caring heart. She really did her best to decide each case on the basis of the applicable law and nothing else. The Supreme Court will not be the same without it.
Originally from Franklin, Clark’s appointment followed a career as a lawyer and judge in Middle Tennessee, including serving as a circuit judge in the 21st Judicial District, which includes Williamson County, from 1989 to 1999.
Clark resigned her judicial post to become director of the Tennessee Courts Administration Office until Bredesen appointed her to the Supreme Court in 2005.
“Justice Clark was a wonderful human being and has proven to be an exceptional justice to our Supreme Court,” Bredesen said in a statement to the Tennessean. “Her reputation for fairness and grace provides a role model for anyone seeking to serve the public. It has been an honor to know her and I will miss her.”
Judge Sharon Lee, also a target of the lieutenant at the time. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s Campaign Against the 2014 Democratic Retention Election Recalls being “in the fox’s hole” with Clark at that time, and seeing his “engagement and her courage to take up all the challenges she faced “.
And with her cancer diagnosis earlier this summer, Clark had pledged to try to serve her current eight-year term, which was due to end in 2022. She asked Lee to tell her that she would seek to stay on. next year, which Lee assured Clark she would. .
The court is expected to become more conservative with an appointment by Governor Bill Lee to the seat held by Clark.
“She was always open to ideas and what it would take to bring everyone together,” Sharon Lee said of Clark, who was looking for a way to get unanimous opinions whenever possible. “We will really miss it. She was a real unifier. Very diplomatic.
“She might criticize an opinion you wrote, but you wouldn’t really realize that until later, because she was very kind about it and never really offensive.”
Clark, known as a supporter of female leadership, was one of a group of about a dozen female judges who met periodically for dinner and socializing. This group is known as the “Tennessee Chicks”, from the name of the “Tennessee Chicks Rule” embroidered on a baseball cap that Lee gave to Bredesen years ago, after his appointment of Lee to the court was made. its first female majority.
Clark and the other female judges, who have their own hats, would continue to wear the caps at annual meetings.
“She was a firm believer that once you get to the top of the mountain, you don’t pull up the ladder,” Lee said of Clark. “You bend down and pull the others up.”
A longtime member of the Franklin First United Methodist Church, Clark was active as a lay leader locally and involved in many of the denomination’s national efforts.
She has devoted much of her time in court to her access to justice initiative to help economically disadvantaged people and others obtain representation and other services in civil cases.
Clark spearheaded a faith-based partnership between the program and The United Methodist Church to help churches connect participants with needed services, Lee or her colleague said.
Bill Koch, a former Tennessee Supreme Court justice who served as president and dean of the Nashville School of Law, knew Clark for decades as their careers as lawyers and then as judges overlapped.
Bredesen chose Clark over Koch when they ran for the same vacant Supreme Court post in 2006, although Koch was appointed the following year. The offices of the two judges were side by side, which allowed them to frequently walk down the hall to discuss ideas with each other and shared many of the same judicial philosophies, Koch said.
“A lot of people would guess if he’s a Republican? Is he a Democrat? Is she a Republican? Is she a Democrat?”
They were both entertained by a law professor at Vanderbilt University, said Koch, who published an academic article stating that after research he determined Koch to be a Democrat and Clark a Republican. The professor based his incorrect conclusion on the primary voting records of the two judges, Clark’s vote in the Republican primaries in Williamson’s Red County and Koch in the Democratic primaries in Davidson’s Blue County because he were relevant local breeds.
“The point is, Republican or Democratic things have never been brought up once in discussing our work on the Supreme Court,” Koch said. “Not once. It just wasn’t a problem.
“A lot of people thought, because she was trained as a Democrat, that maybe she was gentle on crime. But there was no one on crime court tougher than Connie Clark.”
A single woman, Clark, even after her Supreme Court appointment, remained devoted to her extended family, including attending events for her nieces and nephews. She became the matriarch of her eight-generation family in Franklin after the death of her mother, whose name she bears, in 2018.
When some people receive high profile judicial appointments, “your world can shrink,” Koch said, referring to judges “cloistering themselves” and allowing work to devour them.
“Connie never did,” he said. “Connie has a group of personal friends – they go back to Franklin when she was growing up in the ’70s and’ 80s, some of the people she originally practiced law with. They are like family to her.”
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