On the day after Tennessee’s three Democratic state Supreme Court justices won retention, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said he thinks voters feel comfortable both with the way the state currently selects judges and “the work that the Supreme Court is doing.”
“I think there was also a sense that groups came in from outside the state and people didn’t really like that very much,” said the governor.
Haslam added that he believes the citizenry of the state wants to “keep our judiciary, as much as possible, free from just pure politics.”
“We want to make sure we have the very best people in judicial positions that we can,” he said.
Justices Gary Wade, Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee — all of whom were appointed by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat — won new eight-year terms Thursday with electoral support in the 56-57 percent range.
In November, voters will decide whether to amend the Tennessee Constitution to give the Legislature power to confirm or reject appointments the governor makes to appellate courts, including the state Supreme Court.
Haslam is a leading supporter of that referendum, which will appear on the ballot as “Amendment 2.” Under the state’s current system, judges are appointed by the governor alone from a list of three names sent to him by a judicial vetting committee called the “Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments.”
The Tennessee Constitution states, “The Judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.”
Conservatives in the Legislature regard the current system as unconstitutional. Among them is Brian Kelsey, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who sponsored the constitutional amendment voters will decide in November.
Haslam also gave a vote of confidence to the Board of Judicial Conduct, the politically appointed body of mostly judges and lawyers that investigates complaints against judges. “To me I feel like that committee does a good job of reviewing (judicial ethics complaints), and I am willing to stand with the decisions they make,” Haslam said.
Many Tennessee Republicans in the Legislature, particularly the Senate, believe the Board of Judicial Conduct concerns itself more with protecting judges accused of misbehavior than rooting out and punishing ethics violations.