Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers are seeking to remove Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle from office. A proposed resolution would establish temporary committees in both the House and Senate to consider Lyle’s removal. An overwhelming majority of the Republican side of the House has co-sponsored the bill, with the exception of State Representatives Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville), Sam Whitson (R-Franklin), Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin), Michael Curcio (R-Dickson), David Byrd (R-Waynesboro), and Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain).
State Representative Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) proposed the resolution last week. State Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) has sponsored the bill as well. In the preamble, Rudd recounted how last year’s General Assembly rejected legislation expanding absentee by mail voting. He explained that Lyle subsequently altered state election forms in June to expand access to absentee by mail voting. Rudd also noted that the state constitution grants the General Assembly the power to remove a judge from office with a two-thirds vote.
Some of Lyle’s other major decisions this past year on politicized issues have frustrated constituents. As The Tennessee Star reported in November, Lyle ruled against the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act, a referendum aiming to rescind Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s controversial 34 to 37 percent tax increase. Around 27,000 Nashville residents signed a petition in support of the referendum.
Shortly after the introduction of the bill, Lyle recused herself on Monday from the Metro Nashville and Shelby County lawsuit against the state. The two counties alleged inequitable distribution of educational funds. Lyle had scheduled the trial date for this coming October.
The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) issued a statement concerning the House’s proposed resolution on Tuesday. They said that its adoption would have a “chilling effect” on Tennessee’s justice system, as well as jeopardize the separation of powers.
“The TBA is concerned that HR 23, if successful, will create a precedent that any time a judge rules against the state, or on a statute, or renders a politically unpopular decision, that decision could potentially trigger legislative removal proceedings against that judge,” stated TBA. “This also results in the potential for removing a judge any time a ruling is overturned on appeal, when in fact the act of the appeal is a clear measure that the legal process is working appropriately.”
TBA asserted that judicial accountability already exists through other, already-established avenues – the Board of Judicial Conduct for one, as well as the appeals and elections processes.
“Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle violated the boundaries between the legislative and judiciary when she attempted to disregard state law and implement her own rules, personal opinions[,] and policies that were in direct contradiction of existing state laws,” stated Rudd. “She knew and fully understood the Tennessee General Assembly did not authorize or support mass-mail balloting. The legislature is the only authority in Tennessee that can write laws or hold elections.”
The bill awaits a hearing date before the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Nashville City Hall” by Nicolas Henderson. CC BY 2.0.
Updated March 05 at 12:20pm to reflect the bill’s sponsors.