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Tribute Barry A. Ragsdale Refl ections on the Retirement of Justice Th omas Woodall In case you haven’t heard, Justice for example, a predictable majority of the Even though he handily won every Tom Woodall is retiring after twelve years Supreme Court began to consistently rule election in which he ran, Tom Woodall on the Alabama Supreme Court when his against minors seeking waivers for abor- was frankly a terrible politician. He an- current term expires in January. Justice tion services under the Alabama Parental swered questions from the press with re- Woodall’s tenure on the Supreme Court Consent Act. When the majority voted to freshing honesty. He refused to let poli- followed four years as a popular Jeff erson ignore the statutory requirements and the tics infl uence his decisions and he never County Circuit Judge, and twenty years of long-standing precedent that the ore tenus kowtowed to the big business interests a successful law practice. rule did not apply to undisputed testi- that now control the Alabama Supreme When I fi rst volunteered to write this mony, Justice Woodall dissented, correctly Court. In a 2005 survey commissioned tribute to Justice Tom Woodall, I knew accusing the majority of engaging in ex- by the infamous Koch brothers, Justice that I needed to do some research into actly the kind of “blatant judicial activism” Woodall received the lowest score among the man and his career. I visited the usual that conservatives are supposed to ab- his Republican colleagues on the Su- websites: Wikipedia, Judgepedia, Wiki- hor. Ex parte Anonymous, 803 So.2d 542, preme Court for “restraining liability.” leaks. I even found one called the Notable 569 (Ala. 2001) (Woodall, J., dissenting). Th e powerful special interests that hand- Names Database that included all of the Similarly, during the “Bingo Wars” pick and promote GOP candidates for usual pertinent biographical information when a majority of the Supreme Court the Alabama Supreme Court were always about Justice Woodall, plus this: “Sexual suddenly discovered that circuit courts a little wary of Justice Woodall and were Orientation – Straight.” (In an interview, lacked jurisdiction to hear injunction and often dismayed by his stubborn indepen- Justice Woodall confi rmed the accuracy of declaratory judgment actions challeng- dent streak. the information but pointed out that he ing the warrantless search and seizure In the end, Justice Woodall did not did recall anyone ever asking him about it). of gaming machines, Justice Woodall always get it right, but he always called Th e truth is that “straight” pretty ac- presciently predicted that the majority’s them as he saw them and decided cases curately describes Justice Woodall. Since decision would cause the orderly legal without political agenda or personal favor. his humble beginnings as the son of a process to devolve into “a three-ring cir- Both on the bench and off , Justice Wood- school teacher and a postal worker in his cus.” Tyson v. Macon County Greyhound all exhibited the kind of personal integrity native Meridian, Mississippi, to his as- Park, Inc., 43 So.3d 587, 595 (Ala. 2010) and commitment to professionalism that cendance to senior Associate Justice of (Woodall, J., dissenting). He was right, of we would hope to see from every judge the highest court in the #1 judicial sys- course, although I understand he received that ever dons a robe. He will tem (alphabetically) in the country, Jus- complaints from circus performers who be sorely missed.G tice Woodall has always been a straight- resented the comparison. shooter and sometimes at his political In recent years, Justice Woodall found peril, a straight-talker. himself dissenting more and more. An During his time on the Supreme unscientifi c WestLaw search produces a Court, Justice Woodall has never hesi- list of 163 reported cases in which Justice tated to challenge his fellow justices and Woodall dissented in whole or in part from has never shied away from dissenting the decision of the Court. As his contem- from majority decisions that he thought poraries such as Justice Champ Lyons and were at odds with established law. Shortly Justice Bernard Harwood retired, those before Justice Woodall joined the court, dissents became more and more lonely. Contributor Barry Ragsdale 40 Birmingham Bar Association


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