At least one plan for selecting judges in Tennessee is now totally off the table. For my previous posts on the debate in the Tennessee General Assembly see here and here. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee voted 7-7 on Representative Glen Casada’s (R-Franklin) plan to elect judges and justices in contested elections. As a result of the tie vote, one vote shy of the majority needed to advance the bill, legislators now have only two proposals in front of them.
Casada was clearly displeased with the rejection of his proposal: “I’m disappointed to say the least.” He went on to contend that “[t]he constitution governs how we do business and do public policy in the state. To be out of compliance is wrong. If you can’t comply with the most basic, how can you trust us to comply with other parts of the law as well?” Executive Director of the Tennessee Bar Association Allan Ramsaur was not convinced: “Let’s get away from this myth that what we have is not an elected system. We do elect judges, we just don’t have contests which lead to partisanship and big money influence.”
Now, Tennessee legislators are considering the two remaining plans in the rush before the legislative session ends at the end of April. Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) hopes that legislators will approve both plans and then come back in the next session to make a final decision. The first proposal amends the state constitution to explicitly provide for the current system—the so-called Tennessee Plan. The second proposal would mirror the federal judicial selection system (nomination by the executive with confirmation from the upper house of the legislature).
Legislators have to make a decision before the end of this legislative session. Should the Tennessee Senate approve both plans, then the new General Assembly, which will convene in January 2013, could pick up the stalemate. If the General Assembly fails to make any decision, then the debate will rage on into the next session.
Timothy Huffstutter is a third-year student at William and Mary Law.