Speaker wants constitution amended for state's justices

Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 3:10pm

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday he is trying to cut a deal with the state Supreme Court for a constitutional amendment to let the justices keep running in yes/no retention elections.

Ramsey told reporters he met with Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia Clark in his office this week and proposed that they join forces to enshrine the judiciary’s thumbs-up-or-down elections in the constitution.

The day before that meeting, Ramsey broke a tie vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance legislation favored by conservative Republicans to make the state’s appellate judges run in competitive elections.

Ramsey said he did it to show the Supreme Court that he means business. Unless the court helps him amend the constitution, he said the Senate will pass the law ending their hard-to-lose yes/no races.

“That bill needed to advance to make sure that they understood that I’m serious about this,” Ramsey said.

Judges are against running in contested elections because they say it would put justice up to sale in Tennessee by forcing them to raise campaign cash and cut backroom political deals.

But for opponents, yes/no elections defy the plain meaning of the state constitution, which says appellate judges “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.” In 1973, the state Supreme Court upheld yes/no elections, but conservatives scoff at that opinion. The court found then that retention elections are OK because the constitution doesn’t specify exactly what kind of elections have to be held.

“I am not in favor of electing Supreme Court justices,” Ramsey said. “I’ve gone on record with that a thousand times. But our constitution says judges shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state. So either we’re going to do that or we’re going to change our constitution the right way by having a constitutional amendment that puts the retention ballot into the constitution.”

At the end of their meeting, Justice Clark told Ramsey “she’ll get back to me,” the senator said. Asked for comment, Clark would confirm through her spokeswoman only that the meeting occurred.

"This is an important issue that the members of the Supreme Court and appellate courts will continue to discuss with their colleagues and with the legislature, as allowed in the Code of Judicial Conduct," the spokeswoman, Laura Click, said in an email.

With the legislature’s approval, a proposed constitutional amendment could go on the ballot for voters in 2014.

“Connie Clark asked me, will I help pass the amendment. I said, ‘I’ll stand on a mountain and scream for you if that’s what you want me to do. So yes, I will help you pass this amendment to make this constitutional,’ ” Ramsey said.

Conservatives also have demanded contested elections to clamp down on what they see as liberal rulings on abortion and death penalty cases. But Ramsey said he thinks voters would approve a constitutional amendment allowing yes/no elections.

“I think if conservatives like me are up there saying that electing Supreme Court justices is not the right way to go and the attorneys and lawyers and judges are saying the same thing, it’ll pass.”

Filed under: City News

16 Comments on this post:

By: cannoneer2 on 3/31/11 at 4:13

I want to be able to vote for Lieutenant Governor. Can we arrange that??

By: Moonglow1 on 3/31/11 at 4:16

Moonglow1: conservatives DEMAND. Conservatives DEMAND. Wow, don't conservatives understand the rule of law. The conservatives in this state remind me of Scott Walker. You the people don't like what I am doing and too bad for you. I am king of the hill. It is so dangerous because the kings of the hill are intellectually challenged. For example, Walker did not graduate from college. And one questions the educational level of our TN politicians when they champion creationism and long form birth certificates and also thumb their noses at Vanderbilt professors. Academics can't tell them what to do. Oh wow!! Now they want to stack the judiciary in their favor, so that judges can be voted in or out depending on the whims of the Tea Party conservatives that will DEMAND they are always heard. As for "But our constitution says judges shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.” Lately around the country the Tea Party people are introducing and passing measures to make it very difficult for left leaning voters such as students and the poor to vote. They need picture IDs to be able to vote. While people in the Middle East are fighting for democracy, our democracy is being stripped away from us by the Tea Party right here in the USA. Five years from now, peoples rights will be a distant memory in the USA.

By: DChristian on 3/31/11 at 6:22

"Judges are against running in contested elections because they say it would put justice up to sale in Tennessee by forcing them to raise campaign cash and cut backroom political deals."

This has been going on in the "justice" system since it was first enacted and it will continue to go on for years and generations to come. A true Justice has no biased toward anyone or anything and should only be concerned with the written law. I think they should all be elected through a jury system exactly the way we elect a jury.

By: TonyGottlieb on 3/31/11 at 6:36

Nice thought but it doesn't work this way. If the Supreme Court is seated unconstitutionally, it needs to step down until the election in 2012 biennial election. There are life and death cases to be heard by this court and the Governor needs to appoint Special Judges to sit until the election.
The Constitutional Amendment is for 2014

By: lusksavage on 3/31/11 at 7:18

If the constitution says they need to be elected, they need to be elected. As for back door dealings they can and do occur already with or without "campaign" donations.
Why don't they put it before the voters to decide if they want to give up their right to do this. The back door deals are being cut as we speak, they just want to be able to pull the trigger.

By: pswindle on 3/31/11 at 8:15

I want to know, who does Ramsey think he is? He is nothing and he proves it everytime he opens his mouth.

By: leanright on 4/1/11 at 8:14

Hey moonglow and pswindle...hurts to be in the minority doesn't it? Remember when you libs were trying to ram state income tax down our throats? Majority rules and you are now paying the price.

By: pswindle on 4/1/11 at 10:06

Are you proud of what your leaders are doing to TN and Tennesseans? I don't think that you are getting what you voted for.

By: govskeptic on 4/1/11 at 10:23

The word "Demand" in story was that of the writer and his/her conclusion not
anyone Else's. I'm not sure why the Lt. Governor is bargaining with the members
of the Supreme Court to allow them something different. This needed piece
of legislation, which only returns us to the original Tenn Constitution, should be
supported by all voters. The justices get some limited donations no matter
which way they appear on the ballot. The "Judicial Establishment" wishes to keep
it private unto themselves versus the citizens! The time for change is now and
is in the public interest to do so.

By: Antisocialite on 4/1/11 at 11:05

leanright said:
Majority rules and you are now paying the price.

This is typically referred to as 'the tyranny of the majority,' and for you to advocate it just highlights your own simplistic understanding of our representative democracy. Lucky for us, the founders were not as short-sighted as you, and set up a bicameral legislature to prevent exactly what you are describing.

By: rawhide09 on 4/1/11 at 11:40

No, the founders set up a Constitutional Republic, and the constitution limits the rule of the majority. In this case, the Tennessee Constitution is clear about how judges are to be chosen: by contested election.

"Moonglow1" did you even read the article or just knee jerk off with your comment?

By: rawhide09 on 4/1/11 at 11:43

BTW, the report is clear that Ramsey is merely forcing the judiciary and the legislature to abide by the constitution: either they can cooperate to change it to allow for "merit selection and retention" or they will have to abide by it the way it is currently written.

Though I agree with Tony Gottlieb as far as whether the current system is vulnerable to challenge.

By: pswindle on 4/1/11 at 2:05

Gov. Haslam, it is time for you to let Ramsey know that you were elected governor and that he lost.

By: rbull on 4/1/11 at 5:23

I'm telling you folks that this incompentent bastard Speaker Ramsey is going to try and wreck this State and it is time we got the dude out of office. He thinks he won the Governor's race but think the Lord he didn't. I just hope he runs for a State wide office where I can again pull the lever against his ass just like I did in the Governor's race. This inbreed needs to return to East Tennessee (Blountville) and continue his auctioneer's job and get the hell out of the Legislature. First he needs to know he is not the Governor and is not running this State even though by law unfortunately, he is Lieutenant Governor just because he is Speaker of the Senate.

By: localboy on 4/4/11 at 8:50

A tool of the tort lawyers lobby.

By: Bellecat on 4/6/11 at 2:26

Send Ramsey home ASAP. I agree that Haslam needs to make sure Ramsey understands that he lost the governor's race.

"Ramsey said he did it to show the Supreme Court that he means business. Unless the court helps him amend the constitution, he said the Senate will pass the law ending their hard-to-lose yes/no races."

Sounds just like a bully. Yep, that is number 100 on the list of things I don't like about Ramsey.