More than a dozen proposals for Tennessee’s first judicial redistricting in nearly 30 years submitted by individual attorneys, district attorneys, public defenders and judges will be unveiled Friday.
“The response we have gotten to our public call for judicial district maps is extremely encouraging,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said in a statement to TNReport. “I would especially like to commend the Public Defenders Association as well as the Tennessee Bar Association for coming to the table and sharing their ideas.”
Judicial redistricting, which would change the way judges, district attorneys and public defenders are allocated throughout the state, has a bearing on the workload of judges and court workers and the efficiency of the state justice system.
The state’s judicial districts have not been redrawn since 1984. A key reason why redistricting is needed, legislators say, is that in the past three decades, Tennessee’s population has jumped from 4.5 million to 6.4 million.
Sumner County, for example, makes up the 18th Judicial District. It has a population of 163,686, according to 2011 census numbers, and has one circuit court judge assigned to it. But over in Blount County, where there are 40,000 fewer people, there are two circuit court judges.
Tennessee’s 95 counties are divided into 31 judicial districts. Within each district are circuit courts and chancery courts. Some districts also host criminal courts and probate courts.
Ramsey’s office provided TNReport one example of a map they received of how districts could be redrawn. That example can be seen here.
A request for comment from the Administrative Office of the Courts was not immediately returned. An official with the AOC had previously told TNReport the office had no opinion on whether judicial districts should be redrawn.
Ramsey last month launched a website seeking public input into the creation of the new judicial maps. He also sent a memo about this to interested parties.
“While I have heard from several individual judges and district attorneys, their respective conferences have been MIA in the consensus-building process,” Ramsey said. “I find it curious that the judiciary insists that districts from school board to Congress be strictly drawn to the hallowed ‘one man, one vote’ principle yet balks at the mere suggestion that the principle be applied to itself. We came into this process with open minds and a desire to work with interested parties.”
Indeed, not everyone is happy with the potential changes coming.
The biggest problem, (Chancellor Daryl Fansler, the president of the Tennessee Trial Judges Association) says, is that Ramsey’s memo requires any new redistricting plan to make each of the 12 counties with populations over 100,000 people their own districts. Since the memo restricts increasing the number of districts above 31, that leaves 83 counties to be divided among 19 (or fewer) districts, with just 54 judges to serve them. There could be districts with seven or eight counties apiece, stretching hundreds of miles. Judges, lawyers, plaintiffs, and defendants might now have to travel two or three hours to get to court — and court appearances might take a much longer time to get on the schedule.
Ramsey said he believes that the General Assembly will make a map that is fair to Tennessee’s citizens.
“We continue to endeavor to create a map that takes into account both regional integrity and population growth to ensure Tennesseans receive the best possible service from their judges, district attorneys and public defenders,” he said.
Trent Seibert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter(@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.