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Justice Cornelia Clark. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark, a trailblazer who sat on the high court for 16 years, died last week.

  • Clark was the second woman to serve as Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court. She earned a reputation as an inquisitive and passionate jurist with a zest for the law.
  • She was also the first woman to serve as a judge in a rural Tennessee county.

What they're saying: "Connie Clark was a role model to women, girls, and all people in Nashville and throughout Tennessee," the YWCA of Middle Tennessee said.

  • Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who put Clark on the court in 2005, told The Tennessean that "her reputation for fairness and grace offers a model for anyone seeking to serve the public."

Clark will lie in state in the Tennessee Capitol Wednesday from 10am to 2pm.

The big picture: Gov. Bill Lee is now tasked with appointing a replacement for Justice Clark, which creates the possibility for Tennessee's highest court to shift further to the right.

What it means: The Supreme Court was composed of two Democrat-appointed justices (Justice Clark and Justice Sharon Lee) and three appointed by Republicans ( Justice Jeffrey Bivins, Justice Holly Kirby, and Chief Justice Roger Page).

  • Hanging in the balance is a lawsuit from Metro challenging Gov. Lee's education voucher law, which was struck down by a lower court and upheld on appeal. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this year.

What they're saying: Prominent Nashville attorney Charles Robert Bone, a Democrat, offered two possible appointees currently employed by the Lee administration: Brandon Gibson, chief operating officer for the governor's office, and Lang Wiseman, deputy to the governor and chief counsel.

  • "With this being Gov. Lee's first nomination to the Supreme Court and moving the court to a 4-1 Republican majority, it will be interesting to see the approach that the administration takes," Bone told Axios.
  • "The governor clearly has at least two potential justices within his office – both of which would be highly qualified and neither viewed as overtly partisan."

Context: The political composition of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals has been the subject of intense interest by Tennessee Republicans.

  • In 2014, then-Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey ran a campaign to defeat three Supreme Court justices in their retention elections. Ramsey failed and all three Democrats were retained by voters.

What's next: The Supreme Court will meet in the coming days to decide how to handle pending cases that were heard while Justice Clark was on the bench.

  • In a statement to Axios, the court said it would "determine what action, if any, is necessary to take as a result of the vacancy Justice Clark's passing leaves on the Court."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Associate Justice Jeffrey Bivins as the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Roger Page became chief justice on Sept. 1, succeeding Bivins. That version also misidentified Cornelia Clark as the second female justice on the state Supreme Court, not the second woman to serve as Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court.

Go deeper

U.S. prepared to restart Trump's "Remain-in-Mexico" policy in November

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security said late Thursday that it is prepared to reinstate former President Trump's "Remain-in-Mexico" policy in mid-November.

Driving the news: The Supreme Court in August upheld a lower court's decision ordering the administration to reimplement the policy formally called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, which requires asylum seekers at the southern border to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed in U.S. courts.

Oct 15, 2021 - Health

Appeals court declines to block Maine vaccine mandate

A health worker prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination. Photo: Camilo Freedman/APhotografia/Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Friday denied an emergency request to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate from going into effect in Maine, the Associated Press reports.

Driving the news: The mandate, which Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced in August, requires health care workers in Maine to get vaccinated by Oct. 29 or face losing their jobs.

Updated 36 mins ago - World

Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and planned to travel to another destination afterward when the gang abducted them in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.