Judicial Election Bills Rocket to Senate Floor

Resolutions to amend the state constitution regarding selection and election of appellate court judges rocketed out of the  Senate Finance Committee today and are set for consideration as the first and second items on Wednesday's Senate floor calendar. Tennessee Bar Association President Danny Van Horn said that removing merit selection and instituting legislative confirmation in Tennessee's judicial selection system, as SJR 710 by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, would do, is  “dangerous experimentation” with our Constitution and will increase the role that politics plays in the selection of our appellate judiciary and possibly their functioning. At present the Tennessee Constitution does not provide for any state office to be subject to legislative confirmation.

The other proposal, SJR 183, sponsored by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, would amend the Constitution to permit the legislature to enact a system of merit selection and retention elections like our current system. While the TBA would prefer that the Constitutional amendment, if there must be one, prescribe more clearly the system to be created, the Norris resolution at least clearly authorizes the current system, which the bar supports.
 
Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, and House Speaker Beth Harwell have previously affirmed unequivocally their support for the current system, saying that they favor extension of the present plan past the August 2014 judicial elections and adopting legislation to specify the outline of the present plan into the constitution. The TBA has been clear in its support for the present merit selection, performance evaluation and retention election system known at the Tennessee Plan, last amended in 2009, and continues to indicate that no amendment to the constitution is needed.