Tennessee’s legal community mourned the death of state Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark.
Clark, known as Connie, died this week. She was 71.
She was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2005 by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, surviving a 2014 Republican-led campaign to prevent her and two other justices from remaining on the court.
Clark was the second woman to have served as the court’s chief justice. The Tennessee Supreme Court announced her death from cancer on Friday morning.
A Franklin native, Clark’s career began in Middle Tennessee and grew to encompass the whole state. As news of her death spread, leaders in the state’s judicial and legislative branch celebrated her career.
Here are how Tennesseans are remembering Clark.
‘Justice Clark was a mentor’
“Justice Clark was a mentor to me. When I first joined the Court, she was especially kind and helpful,” Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger A. Page said. “I am sure there will be times in the future when I will reach for the phone to seek her advice only to realize that her guidance is no longer available. The courts of Tennessee will never be the same.”
“Justice Clark and I served together on the Supreme Court for thirteen years. We shared many experiences as colleagues and as friends,” Justice Sharon G. Lee said. “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.”
‘Inspiring and second to none’
“Connie Clark’s service to the people of the State of Tennessee at all levels was inspiring and second to none. Her commitment to public service was unsurpassed,” said Justice Jeff Bivins. “She was a brilliant and incredibly fair jurist. Her institutional knowledge and expertise cannot be replaced. To me, she also was a trusted friend and colleague both before and since I joined the Court. I will so miss her not only in all Court matters but as a dear friend.”
‘Pitch-perfect judicial temperament’
“Justice Connie Clark had a pitch-perfect judicial temperament. Always calm, measured, precise, and even-handed in her approach to the Court’s decisions,” said Justice Holly Kirby. “In the important cases the Court takes on, she always strove to put aside any political considerations or personal judgment on the wisdom of actions of the other two branches of government. I’ll never attain Justice Clark’s level of judicial perfection, but she inspires me every day to try.”
A ‘formidable judge’
“I was honored to have known and worked with Justice Clark, an eighth-generation Tennessean whose contributions to the judiciary and the people of Tennessee will be felt for generations to come,” Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery said in a statement.
“On the bench, Tennesseans could be confident she was fair, impartial, and thoughtful in applying the law; lawyers could expect a formidable judge.
“You could be sure she lived by her own words, ‘It’s always good to remember where you came from,’ which she did by serving her hometown, her church, and her state. “
U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn said Clark “devoted her life to serving Tennesseans.”
“Justice Clark was a trailblazer in Tennessee’s legal community and has left a lasting impact on our state.”
‘Soul of the Supreme Court’
“Surely today the heavens have fallen, for all of us, with the untimely loss of Justice Cornelia (Connie) Clark.” wrote Deborah Taylor Tate, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
“If Truth is the soul of justice, Justice Clark was certainly the soul of the Supreme Court. But her real impact in this world will not only be captured in her well-reasoned legal decisions; but more importantly she will continue to have a living legacy through the hearts and the lives of all those fortunate enough to have known, worked and been inspired to greater service by her.”
‘A wonderful legacy’
“Justice Clark was a very special person,” Janet E. Williams, Retired Clerk & Master for Lewis County, wrote.
“I quickly found her to be a hard working precise Judge on the bench. She was so compassionate in her rulings while being very strict at the same time. I consider her my lifelong friend as well as my ‘boss.’ She made a wonderful legacy and paved the way for many young women. “
‘A fierce champion for access to justice’
“I have to admit that I was intimidated by Justice Clark when she first became the Liaison to the Access to Justice Commission. Her wisdom and reputation for excellence made me nervous that I wouldn’t live up to her expectations,” wrote Anne-Louise Wirthlin, Director, Access to Justice, Administrative Office of the Courts.
“Over the years she became a mentor to me in many ways, some of which she probably never realized. She was a fierce champion for access to justice and truly cared about her fellow Tennesseans.”