Last week the Scene examined the confidential deliberations of the Judicial Council for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and its investigation into Paine's membership at the club. They tackled a two-pronged question: Does Paine's membership violate the judicial code of conduct? And, more to the point, does the club discriminate based on race and gender?
One problem the council identified is that the club, in its century-long history, can boast but a single black non-resident member who lives in Atlanta and seldom visits. The other problem is that women are not eligible to become resident members, which would accord them the right to vote on club affairs, its bylaws say.
The council exonerated Paine and (to a small extent) the club, but by the barest majority, revealing a schism in the 6th Circuit that followed an unmistakably racial path. But if the nearly split council left troubling questions about the club largely unanswered, it clarified one inescapable reality: Membership in the Belle Meade Country Club is a non-starter for Norton and anyone else seeking public office.
"If I'm going to take a public-service role, I shouldn't be painted with that kind of controversy because it wouldn't reflect well on the court," said Norton, who literally helped write the book on bankruptcy law — his father, William L. Norton Jr., is the force behind the Norton Bankruptcy Law Library, to which the younger Norton has contributed as writer and editor — and has been a member of the club for roughly 20 years.
Asked if he would resign if appointed to the bench Paine will vacate when he retires at the end of this year, Norton replied succinctly: "No doubt."
"If they see fit to appoint me, I'll make that fairly clear," he continued. After the jump, a list of the current candidates.
Barbara Dale Holmes — Nashville, TN
Randal Steven Mashburn — Nashville, TN
William Neal McBrayer — Brentwood, TN
William LaFayette Norton III — Nashville, TN
Marie Kimberly Stagg — Nashville, TN
Charles M. Walker — Antioch, TN
Wendy Michelle Warren — Nashville, TN