Joined by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell in the state capitol Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam announced a plan to add an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution and cement the process by which supreme and appellate court judges are appointed.
The resolution, which is still being drafted, would ensure that the state's top judges would be installed under the same process as they are today. Under the current "Tennessee Plan," candidates are nominated by a commission based on merit, appointed by the governor and kept in office by uncontested retention elections, where a simple majority is the only requirement to continue presiding in court.
"I believe the current process has worked well during my time in office, and I've been pleased with both the quality of candidates and the process for choosing them," Haslam said in a news release. "The judiciary is the third and equal branch of government, and we are here to make this recommendation because we believe it is important for our Constitution to reflect the reality of how we select judges in Tennessee."
Despite being backed by three of the state's top Republican lawmakers, the amendment still has a long way to go before it could be placed on the ballot for Tennesseans to approve. The proposal must pass two separate votes in both chambers of the General Assembly, with the second vote requiring a 2/3 majority in both the House and Senate.
The appointment process, employed by several other states, was enacted in the 1970s and is intended to reduce the potential for politics to have an impact in the placement of judges. M. Craig Smith, secretary of the Chattanooga Bar Association, said he expected the amendment to reach the ballot in the next year or two and added his opinion that continuing with the current system in place was a good idea.
"If you look at some of the other states who elect their judges, it's become more political and more expensive as the years go by," Smith said. "If judges are subject to popular elections each year, you're going to have judges making decisions based on what's best for their long-term prospects of holding office."
The proposed amendment was the second in Tennessee in the last two weeks. Members of the General Assembly voted last week to approve a resolution to add an amendment banning a state income tax. A 2/3 vote in both chambers is all that remains for the measure to be placed on the 2014 ballot.
Updated @ 7:22 a.m. on 01/27/12 to fix a grammatical error.