Alexander: Tennessee Lawyers Have Heroically Confronted Dilemmas Involving the Rule of Law

Posted on June 14, 2019

NASHVILLE, TENN., June 14, 2019– United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today told members of the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) and the Tennessee Judicial Conference (TJC) the story of how three Tennesseans have been heroic in confronting dilemmas involving the rule of law.

The TBA today awarded Alexander with its President’s Award, recognizing his lifetime of public service, and the TJC presented Alexander with its Judicial Conference Award, which included a piece of the carpet from the Tennessee Supreme Court where Alexander was sworn in three days early as governor. 

Alexander said Tennesseans Hal Hardin, Bill Leech and Bill Koch acted with courage and skill when confronted with dilemmas involving the rule of law in Tennessee 41 years ago when they set in motion a plan to swear-in Alexander as governor of Tennessee in 1979, three days early, to prevent then-Governor Ray Blanton from selling pardons for cash.

“A few years ago, Justice Bill Koch wrote an article in the Nashville Bar Journal about lawyers acting with courage when confronted with dilemmas involving the rule of law. He mentioned lawyers who signed the Declaration of Independence, a lawyer who signed the Emancipation Proclamation and a lawyer who defended a British soldier who had killed a patriot during the Revolutionary War. You don’t have go to Philadelphia, Boston or Washington D.C. to find lawyers in American history who were heroic in confronting dilemmas involving the rule of law – you can start in Nashville.”

“Hal Hardin, who was the then- U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, took a big risk to call me as governor-elect to ask that I be sworn in three days early. He had no real authority to make such a telephone call. He was putting his career, reputation and political future on the line by asking a Republican to do something he believed was consistent with the rule of law, but that had never been done before,” Alexander continued. “Which brings me to the second lawyer I would like to cite as a political hero, Bill Leech, who was the then-Attorney General of Tennessee who issued an opinion saying swearing me in early was the right thing to do. Bill Koch, who was then also a deputy state Attorney General, also found himself smack in the middle of a constitutional dilemma. There was nothing easy then or now about the decisions that Hal Hardin, Bill Leech, Bill Koch as well as others, made on January 17, 1979.”

The fellows of the TBA Young Lawyers Division presented Hal Hardin with an award, named after Bill Leech, which honors a lawyer in public service. TBA also presented Dean Koch with the Justice Frank F. Drowota, III, Outstanding Judicial Service Award, which is given to a judge or judicial branch official of a federal, state or local court in Tennessee who has demonstrated extraordinary devotion and dedication to the improvement of the law, our legal system and the administration of justice.