As Tennesseans prepare to head to the polls on August 4, where they will vote on whether to retain the state’s five Supreme Court justices, The Tennessee Star has completed a profile on each justice currently sitting on the bench.

Last week, The Star profiled Chief Justice Jeffrey Bivins.

Bivins recently authored one of the highest-profile cases heard by the state Supreme Court in 2022 – a case that garnered national attention.

Robby Starbuck was a candidate for Congress in Tennessee’s hotly-contested 5thCongressional District. He was disqualified from the ballot after the Tennessee Republican Party determined that he was not a “bona fide Republican,” and thus could not run in the primary.

After a battle in Davidson County Chancery Court, wherein Starbuck argued that the Republican Party violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act (TOMA), the Chancery Court ruled in his favor and he was restored to the ballot via a temporary injunction.

The Republican Party appealed, and the case, Robert Starbuck Newsom a/k/a Robby Starbuck v. Tennessee Republican Party et al. (No. M2022-00735-SC-R10-CV) was assumed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court decided in favor of the Republican Party and vacated the Chancery Court’s injunction.

“In finding a TOMA violation, the trial court ruled that state executive committees and state primary boards are “synonymous” under Title 2. We disagree. The statutory scheme clearly provides for and distinguishes between state executive committees and state primary boards, and it confers upon each distinct entity differing obligations and responsibilities,” Bivins wrote in his opinion.

“The trial court further determined that whenever a state executive committee acts under powers granted to it under Title 2, it is acting as a state primary board because Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-13-102(b) provides that ‘[t]he state primary board shall perform the duties and exercise the powers required by this title for its party,'” he wrote. “Again, we disagree and conclude that this determination results from reading the statute in isolation.”

“The order of the trial court granting Mr. Starbuck a temporary injunction is vacated, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” the opinion concluded. “The Appellants’ motion to stay the injunction pending appeal, as well as the State Officials’ petition for a common law writ of certiorari and supersedeas, are denied as moot.”

In a matter of weeks, voters in Tennessee will decide whether to retain Bivins, along with the state’s four other Supreme Court justices.

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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Jeffrey Bivins” by Tennessee State Courts.