Letters of the Law

We All Lose When Legislature Declares War on Judiciary

I cannot express my disappointment in the actions of the legislature on its final day of the session just concluded. By defeating the Senate’s bill to redistrict judicial lines the House has insured that the issue will not be reexamined until just before the judicial elections in 2030. The plan defeated was a good one. It gave counties with populations of 100,000 or more their own district so they would not share their judges with other counties. Domination of an entire district by one county was greatly reduced. Money would have been saved by slightly reducing the number of districts from 31 to 29, while most of the state would have been untouched. Only six districts and 22 of our 95 counties were affected. The bill had been endorsed by the Tennessee Judicial Council, the TennesseeTrial Judges Association and our own TBA.

The legislature passed a resolution to amend our state constitution to transfer appointment of the State Attorney General from the Tennessee Supreme Court to the legislature. This would politicize the office and as in many other states make it a stepping stone for lawyers wanting to run for governor. I have never known an attorney general who was dishonest, incompetent or too political. No one should care whether the holder of that office is a Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative. We just need the best lawyer we can get; a very talented one who will leave a lucrative practice for an eight-year term of public service.

Now we have some senators who are dissatisfied with the incumbent attorney general because he has opined that some of their pet bills would be unconstitutional if enacted into law. The fact that the lawyers in the legislature agree with him doesn’t seem to matter. They also resent General Cooper’s refusal to waste time and money by joining other states in the unsuccessful suit against the Affordable Health Care Law.

Some laymen in the General Assembly say it is a conflict of interest for the Supreme Court to appoint the attorney who argues cases before the court. Judges appoint lawyers all the time to represent indigents in criminal cases, termination of parental rights cases and many others. Guardians ad litem are appointed every day. When appointed the rules of ethics apply and the lawyer appointed has a relationship with the appointing court which is the same as any other lawyer.

On the day after adjournment The Tennessee Journal wrote that the next legislature may want to appoint the governor, UT football coach, conductor of the Nashville Symphony and the Mule Day Queen.

We should not change our method for choosing our highest legal officer and head of Tennessee’s biggest law firm; a system which has served us very well for over a century.

Finally, the legislature adjourned for the year without extending the life of the Judicial Nominating Commission. This means that all over the state whenever a judge retires, resigns or dies there will be no legal mechanism to fill vacancies.

Many members of the General Assembly seem to have forgotten that the Judiciary is the third branch of our government. We all lose when they declare war on it.

I hope that the members of our association will contact their legislators about these matters to encourage them to act to promote judicial efficiency and the well-being of our system of justice.

— Landis Turner, former Tennessee Bar Association president, Hohenwald