Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is leading the charge to amend the Tennessee Constitution to eliminate any language in the state’s guiding document that alludes to direct elections of Supreme Court judges by the voters. Haslam is being joined in that effort by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, who served for eight years as Haslam’s predecessor. The two spoke together in favor of Amendment 2 at a Sept. 17 campaign event for the measure in Knoxville, after which they took questions from the press.
Currently, the state’s constitution declares, “The Judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.” That provision would be erased by Amendment 2, which is on Tennessee’s November general election ballot.
Over the years the General Assembly has passed statutes scrapping contested popular elections to decide who serves on the Tennessee Supreme Court. The five members are instead appointed by the governor and subsequently run in “retention” elections, where their names appear unopposed on the ballot. In the four-plus decades the so-called “Tennessee Plan” has been in effect, only one judges has ever failed to win an uncontested election.