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TN Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark to be first active member of judiciary to lie in state

Cornelia Clark had been on the bench since 2005. She previously was director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Credit: Tennessee Supreme Court
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark, who died this week at age 71.

TENNESSEE, USA — Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark has died at age 71.

The five-member court announced her passing Friday morning. Clark fought a brief battle with cancer and died overnight, according to the court.

Clark was a Democrat, appointed to the court by then Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2005. Before that, she oversaw the Administrative Office of the Courts for six years.

Chief Justice Roger A. Page said in a statement that Clark had mentored "hundreds of judges."

"She loved the Tennessee judicial system and has made it better in immeasurable ways. As her colleague for the past five and one-half years, I observed her tremendous work ethic. Her keen mind was surpassed only by her kind and caring heart. She truly tried her best to decide each case based on the applicable law and nothing else. The Supreme Court will not be the same without her," Page's statement reads.

In 2014, Clark and colleagues and fellow Democrats Gary Wade, of Sevier County, and Sharon Lee, of Knoxville, faced and overcame a campaign by conservatives including then Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey to oust them at their retention election.

Lee, in the court's statement Friday, said: "Justice Clark and I served together on the Supreme Court for thirteen years. We shared many experiences as colleagues and as friends. Our friendship strengthened over the years as we faced challenges together—such as the contested retention election in 2014—and through our laughter and good times when we joined with fellow women judges at our ‘Tennessee Chicks Rule’ dinners, and when we traveled to Cuba to study their judicial system. I saw first-hand Justice Clark’s tireless dedication to her faith, her family, her friends, the judiciary, and access to justice for all. She faced every challenge and obstacle with grace, hard work, and humility.”

During her 16 years on the bench, Clark served as chief justice 2010-12.

"Connie" to her friends, she was a Franklin native and proudly recalled that her family had lived in the Williamson County town for eight generations.

Clark will lie in state at the Tennessee State Capitol on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lying in state is traditionally an honor provided to a state’s most distinguished public officials. 

According to a press release, she will be the first active member of the judiciary to lie in state at the Tennessee State Capitol and the second woman. Tennessee Senator Thelma Harris, the first black woman to serve in the Tennessee Senate, was the first woman to lie in state at the Tennessee State Capitol. 

In 2020, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the first woman to lie in state at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., officials said.

Officials said that according to the best research available, Justice Clark is only the third Tennessean to lie in state at the State Capitol in the past 88 years.

The family has also announced the following arrangements:

  • Thursday: Visitation will be at the First United Methodist Church in Franklin from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Friday: Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Franklin. The funeral will take place at the church at noon. The funeral is expected to be livestreamed from the church’s website. The burial will be private.

The First United Methodist Church is located at 120 Aldersgate Way in Franklin.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee will choose the next justice from those recommended by the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments, The Associated Press reported.

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