On Thursday, voters across the state chose to retain three justices who were fighting to hold their seats in a race that saw unprecedented spending and partisan politicking.
Any other year, the election to retain or replace Tennessee's Supreme Court justices would be a ho-hum affair.
Not this year.
More than $1 million was spent in a battle for the heart of the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Three of its five members, Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee, fought to retain their seats in a fight against both grassroots and out-of-state groups sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to make the court more conservative. Among those looking to replace the justices were the Charles and David Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, which has been aggressive in trying to elect conservatives in local and state-level seats across the nation.
But the big push has come from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who provided the blueprint for the campaign to replace the three justices, not to mention the largest recorded campaign contribution — more than $400,000 to the conservative Tennessee Forum, donated through his political action committee.
The unique timing of the election, the unprecedented spending in this race and the ramifications have drawn national attention to Tennessee's Aug. 7 election, as it joins a growing number of states where national, partisan groups are trying to influence judicial contests.
"This is a trend that we are seeing more and more of in retention elections in those states that have them," said Laurie Kinney, spokeswoman for Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan organization that tracks spending and opposes the politicization of judicial elections. "It appears this year it's Tennessee's turn."
The three justices, having been put on the defensive, battled back at accusations that they are too soft on crime, including death penalty cases; too liberal for Tennessee; and culpable for problems associated with the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.
"The adjectives, like 'soft' or 'liberal,' aren't applicable. On issues like Obamacare, our Supreme Court has never ruled on anything to do with Obamacare. That's a federal issue," Clark said in a phone interview last week between campaign events. "It continues to be disappointing and difficult to understand why anyone would try to make the type of accusations they're making."
Lee said politics have no place in deciding who should administer justice in Tennessee.
"I think that when you have politics in the courtroom, you basically put the Constitution out," she said. "When you have politics, only the rich and powerful can prevail."