Brennan Center, Justice at Stake Praise Tennessee Judicial Ethics Rules

January 6, 2012

New Code on When Judges Should Step Aside ‘Will Help Ensure Public Faith’  

The Tennessee Supreme Court this week adopted a new Code of Judicial Conduct to prohibit judges from hearing cases involving campaign supporters in which “the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

“The Tennessee Supreme Court should be applauded for taking this important step forward,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the nonpartisan Justice at Stake Campaign. “Tennessee’s new, forward-looking rules will help ensure public faith in the court system, and provide a model for the rest of the nation to follow.”

“As spending on high court elections continues to skyrocket, judges and litigants need a clear way to address recusal questions related to campaign contributions,” said Maria da Silva, Research Associate at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Tennessee’s new disqualification rules are a step in the right direction that will help shore up public confidence in the judiciary.”  

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center filed joint comments in support of the proposed changes to Tennessee’s Code. Adam Skaggs, Senior Counsel for the Brennan Center, presented oral arguments before the Tennessee Supreme Court on December 2, 2011.

Judges in Tennessee will now be required to step aside when they have received campaign support – whether in the form of a direct contribution or an independent expenditure – that creates a reasonable appearance of impropriety. Judges will also supply written reasons when they deny a recusal request, and the parties will be permitted to appeal the decision. When the decision of a supreme court justice is appealed, it will be reviewed by the remaining members of the court. These new rules were identified in a recent report on recusal reform after Caperton as some of the most promising reforms in the country.

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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a nonpartisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism. A singular institution – part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group – the Brennan Center combines scholarship, legislative and legal advocacy, and communications to win meaningful, measurable change in the public sector. For more information, visit

The Justice at Stake Campaign is a nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign working to keep America’s courts fair and impartial. Justice at Stake and its 50-plus state and national partners educate the public, and work for reforms to keep politics and special interests out of the courtroom—so judges can protect our Constitution, our rights and the Rule of law. For more about Justice at Stake, go to, or

For More Information:

Erik Opsal, Brennan Center for Justice, (646) 292-8356,

Charles Hall, Justice at Stake, (202) 588-9454,