Senate OKs amending state constitution to change how judges are selected

Friday, February 22, 2013 at 12:28am

An effort to ask Tennessee voters to change how high court judges are selected in Tennessee won final approval by the Senate on a 29-2 vote Thursday.

The legislation still needs a final OK from the House of Representatives that will ultimately need a two-thirds majority, which amounts to 66 votes.

“The people of Tennessee are not presently voting for judges in open contested elections,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. “And the people of Tennessee have never been asked whether or not they favor following the judicial selection plan that our founding fathers of the U.S. Constitution came up with. Let’s give them the chance to vote on that.”

The idea behind the change is to address what critics say is the unconstitutional process of not popularly electing judges. Currently, the governor appoints judges from a list of recommendations. Those judges then are subject to yes/no retention elections.

The change — if voters decide to approve it at the ballot box during the 2014 governor’s election — is modeled after the federal judicial selection practice. It would do away with the list of recommendations the governor has to choose from and would also give the legislature a chance to reject the governor’s appointees. Judges would still be subject to retention elections.

The Tennessee Constitution details that “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.” It also states, “The judges of the Circuit and Chancery Courts, and of other inferior Courts, shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned.”

The situation has been brewing for decades, although the Supreme Court has previously ruled the current practice is unconstitutional. Some GOP lawmakers have tried to push for the state to give up how judges are currently selected and revert to straight popular elections to better align the state with its constitution.

Top GOP leaders, including the governor and speakers, have said they oppose the idea of judges running campaigns.

Several members in the Senate stood up to oppose changing the constitution before the vote, including Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, who ultimately voted for the bill but said she hopes voters reject it so lawmakers can consider popular elections.

“I believe that what we have on the books right now is clearly unconstitutional and we need to do something to make it right,” she said. “I want the people to vote on this. I want them to finally tell us how they feel about it ... then hopefully we’ll go back to doing it right.”

No votes on the constitutional amendment included Sens. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.

13 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 2/22/13 at 5:58

Admitting the Missouri Plan, that we have been using for the last 30-40 yrs, is unconstitutional, now they want to have the citizens voting to keep and expand a system that further takes this selection process away from the voters. The current process has given us as many bad judges as did when they were popularly
elected, so why not go back to the way to the way our Constitution prescribed?

An Imperial Judiciary was certainly not what the State or National Constitution had
in mind. It's only the advent of the Rich and Powerful that has made all these changes
to protect a "Privileged Class" rather than the public at large. It shows up daily in
our Courts.

By: Captain Nemo on 2/22/13 at 6:32

Good points gov.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/22/13 at 7:46

gov, money would sway elections as well. I would rather judges be appointed by merit than popularity and I don't like the idea of judges spending their time campaigning instead of focusing on cases.

By: ancienthighway on 2/22/13 at 9:24

Judges appointed by merit would be a great idea, but in practice it doesn't work. Judges are then appointed by political party and who will best serve the policies of the persons doing the appointing.

By: amoobrasil on 2/22/13 at 9:34

Republicans have only one obsession: to enrich their generous supporters who use their great wealth to exercise their power through the GOP.

This "reform"--given the well-known fact that few voters go to the polls to elect judges, and the fact that, even if they did, they would lack the necessary information to cast a vote, the judges "elected" will be accountable to the wealthy few who place them in their offices. Consumers and citizens will not stand a chance in litigation involving corporations that even now effectively select the judges they want.

By: Loner on 2/22/13 at 10:11

Ideally, judges should be politically neutral, fair, honest, informed, educated, logical, reasonable, compassionate, yet firm. This rules out every politician....but elected judges are politicians by another name.

Appointing judges, rather than electing them in a general election, could eliminate the political bias aspect; but elected politicians do the selecting...their bias is reflected in their choice.

It comes down to democracy versus autocracy...who do you trust?

If the general welfare of the population is the standard for measuring success, then historically, autocracy has been shown to be a miserable failure. Democracy has a much better track record.

True, the masses can be asses, but I prefer rule by consensus, as opposed to rule by executive fiat.

By: pswindle on 2/22/13 at 10:18

This Governor wants TN to be so red that it will self destruct.

By: Loner on 2/22/13 at 10:27

Appointments versus elections....

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary."
_James Madison

"If Governors were angels, then appointing judges would be a heavenly idea"

By: Loner on 2/22/13 at 10:31

Pswindle: I could be wrong, but the state government of TN is redder than the general population of the state....I conclude that from my years of posting on the Nashville City Paper.

If the Governor's plan is to make the state redder, ie, more conservative, by letting the general population elect the state's judges, then the plan may backfire...IMO.

The Democratic Party is all but dead in TN, this move, to electing judges, could revive them?

By: JeffF on 2/22/13 at 12:22

"Pswindle: I could be wrong, but the state government of TN is redder than the general population of the state....I conclude that from my years of posting on the Nashville City Paper."

I think you have lost perspective of just how alternative this news site really is. This site has been becoming more backwater and isolated from the rest of the state each and every year since it started. The only thing keeping it from becoming a disenfranchised minority rant page is the sports section, and even that has its moments with it insistence on coverage of Vanderbilt sports teams over programs with a legitimate local fan base.

The only remaining Democratic populations in the state are in Nashville, Memphis, the California transplants in Cool Springs, the scattered cotton farmers in the dirt poor areas of West Tennessee, and the lilly white racists or the upper Cumberland. Since none of those areas are experiencing the population and economic growth of the rest of the state they will keep shrinking further. Any growth in Nashville is because its MSA's growth requires it. The schools in the rest of the state are just too good to produce Democrats like the ones in Memphis and here in Nashville.

By: Loner on 2/22/13 at 12:47

Jeff: The Nashville City Paper is actually, "Pravda on the Cumberland"? I did not know that....thanks for the heads up.

Yeah, if a liberal from New York state posts here on a regular basis, it's gotta be a leftist rag....outside agitators frequent the boards here...stirring up trouble....the NCP is "a disenfranchised minority rant page"....I gotta agree on that....and I love it!

By: JeffF on 2/22/13 at 2:21

I only know one outsider, so no worries there :)

I never thought of the "Pravda on the Cumberland" title. Plus one for you Loner. I will have to steal that before you copyright it.

By: ConservativeSailor on 2/24/13 at 3:43

Article III, Section 1, states "The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour".
That, my friend, shows the CLEAR intent of the Founders to create an "Imperial Judiciary" at the Federal level. But the Founders had not yet seen true Progressives. Therefore, the Constitution should be amended such that a member of the Federal Judiciary should be appointed in the current manner of Executive Proposal, Senate Advice and Consent but rather than death, resignation or impeachment ending the term, it should come up for re-confirmation every 6 years. They should be divided up into three classes as Article I does the Senate so that one third of the serving judges at any level in the Federal Judiciary will be set for re-confirmation every two years.
There should also be, in that amendment, term limits of four for the House, two for the Senate and President and two for the Justices.
The Founders apparently considered that men of good character would serve in these offices. They were wrong. In my opinion, anyone who runs for public office should be convicted of a felony for so running, since they will commit crimes against the Constitution by their legislation, Orders, judgements and other official acts in office. If they run and lose, "conspiracy to become elected" should be a class C misdemeanor.