Less than a year after re-election, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary R. Wade announced Friday he will retire later this year.
The retirement of Justice Wade in September will leave a seat open on the Supreme Court that places the balance of power in the hands of Gov. Bill Haslam.
Following fifteen years in private practice, Wade sat on the bench of Tennessee courts for 28 years, beginning with his appointment to the Court of Criminal Appeals in 1987. Gov. Phil Bredesen appointed Wade to the Supreme Court in 2006. His fellow justices elected him to serve a two-year term as chief justice in September 2012.
“I would like to thank the people of Tennessee who have allowed me to serve since 1975,” said Wade.
He and fellow justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee were re-elected in the 2014 retention election, defeating an effort to oust them led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and funded largely by out-of-state groups including the Republican State Leadership Committee and Americans for Prosperity.
“I was honored to serve as chief justice during the partisan challenge to the judiciary last year,” he said. “I am especially grateful to the bench and bar, practically all of whom joined in defense of the principle of a constitutionally based balance of powers among the three branches of government.”
Wade did not say what prompted his retirement or what he has planned for the future.
“My friend and former colleague Gary Wade is one of the finest judges Tennessee has ever produced. His wealth of practical life experiences, together with his keen understanding of the law has made him invaluable in reaching decisions that affect the lives of individuals in our state,” said former Supreme Court Chief Justice William “Mickey” Barker, who served with Wade.
A graduate of the University of Tennessee and resident of Sevier County, Wade held the position of Mayor of Sevierville from l977 until l987, and was the city attorney for Pigeon Forge from 1973 to 1987. He co-founded and is a past president of Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is active in local organizations, including the East Tennessee Historical Society, Sevier County High School Foundation, and Sevier County Library Foundation.
In 2014, Wade was honored with the Tennessee Bar Association’s Justice Frank F. Drowota III Outstanding Judicial Service Award for his outstanding and dedicated service to the courts and the legal community.
“I want to thank Justice Wade for his years of service to Tennessee as a dedicated member of the judiciary. I greatly appreciate Gary’s commitment to justice and his love for our state,” Haslam said in a statement. “Tennessee will miss his service on the Supreme Court, and I am grateful for his good work.”
State law allows the governor to appoint a successor to fill the seat for the remainder of Wade’s eight-year term. That appointment must then be confirmed by the Legislature within sixty days from the date of appointment, if made during the annual legislative session, or the convening date of the next annual legislative session if made out of session. If the Legislature fails to reject the appointment within sixty days, confirmation is made by default. The public will get a chance to vote on retaining the justice if he or she runs for a full term in 2022.
In response to Wade’s retirement announcement, Ramsey said he was looking forward to the opportunity to give Tennessee its first ever Republican Supreme Court majority.
Haslam appointed both Jeffrey S. Bivins and Holly Kirby to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2014.