The Republican-run legislature would seize control of Tennessee’s system for disciplining judges under a bill the Senate Judiciary Committee adopted Tuesday.
Social conservatives are backing the legislation as one way to help reign in what they see as a liberal judiciary in Tennessee.
“I feel strongly about it. We need some accountability,” said the committee’s chair, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet.
A special legislative committee held hearings last year into the Court of the Judiciary, which decides whether to discipline judges for ethical misconduct and other breaches of the public trust. Of the hundreds of annual complaints lodged against judges, 90 percent are dismissed, the committee learned. Proceedings are secret, and nearly all reprimands are not made public.
The state Supreme Court now appoints 10 of the Court of the Judiciary’s 16 members. The Tennessee Bar Association names three, and the governor and speakers of the state House and Senate each appoint one member.
Under Beavers’ bill, the House and Senate speakers would appoint all the members. The committee voted 6-3 for the bill.
Libby Sykes, director of the state court system, asked the committee to postpone any action for a year to give the Supreme Court time to overhaul the judicial code of conduct. The justices now are taking comments from the state’s courts on proposed revisions in the code.
Tennessee Bar Association Executive Director Allan Ramsaur argued the legislature would trample on the authority of the judicial branch by taking control of the Court of the Judiciary.
“The General Assembly doesn’t have oversight responsibility for a co-equal branch of government. This is not just another agency,” he said. “The question of discipline of judges is certainly one which falls within the jurisdiction of the court.”