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Plan to Elect Judges Fails

A bill to elect judges to Tennessee’s appellate and Supreme courts failed to advance out of a House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Senate is considering two alternate judicial selection plans.

As the battle brews over how to pick the state’s most powerful judges, plans to make them earn their seat on the bench through popular elections narrowly failed in a House committee Wednesday.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-7 on a plan to elect Supreme and appellate court judges, one vote shy of the majority vote necessary to advance the plan in the Legislature.

“I’m disappointed, to say the least,” said bill sponsor Rep. Glen Casada, who contends the current practice flies in the face of the Tennessee Constitution. The constitution says judges of the Supreme, Circuit and Chancery Courts, and other inferior courts “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.”

“The constitution governs how we do business and do public policy in the state,” said Casada, R-Franklin. “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?”

The narrow vote shows there is still distinct division in the GOP-run Legislature over the best way to go about choosing who should sit on the bench in the state’s highest courts.

The measure, HB173, would have required high-ranking judges to face popular elections beginning in August 2014 instead of the yes/no retention elections they now face every eight years.

The Senate considered amendments to the state Constitution earlier Wednesday, but isn’t expected to vote on the plans until next week.

SJR183 would allow the General Assembly to solidify the current practice of the governor appointing judges who later face retention elections, called the Tennessee Plan.

SJR710, on the other hand, would require the governor’s judicial appointments to win approval from the General Assembly. Those judges would also face retention elections to renew their terms.

Much of the debate sparks from varying interpretations of the Constitution and whether a “retention election” heeds the call in the state’s guiding document for an “election.”

“Let’s get away from this myth that what we have is not an elected system,” said Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association. “We do elect judges, we just don’t have contests which lead to partisanship and big money influence.”

6 replies on “Plan to Elect Judges Fails”

The exact same word – “elected” is used for both trial court and appellate judges in the Constitution yet it is not applied the same. Since “electing” is a means of “selecting”, try substituting the term “selected” and its clear that the contortion of the term “elected” as presently is done by some elected officials is not what was intended.

Allan Ramsaur’s comment at the end of the story is absurd and easy to demonstrate as false.

Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association, said, “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.”

But, wait. Appellate judges are appointed to 8-year terms, meaning they serve for EIGHT YEARS before the first voter gets to cast the first vote for or against said judge (in a “retention” election).

The state constitution guarantees that the people of Tennessee, if they have a case that goes before an appellate judge, will face a judge who was elected – but for the first EIGHT YEARS of a judge’s service on the appellate bench, they are, in face UNELECTED.

So, every plaintiff and defendant in every case an appointed judge hears in the eight years before their retention election has their case heard by a judge who has not, in fact, been elected.

I agree Bill, and voters–unlike Ramsaur, are concerned about transparency and accountability in the process. Ramsaur manifests the partisanship and big money that controls the current process. BTW, after appointment in the current system, a judge faces a “retention”/uncontested election at the next “regular August election.”

It is time to call a spade a spade. There is a colossal fraud involving a conspiracy between the members of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, the Governor and the Leadership of the Legislature on both sides of the aisle, the Tennessee Bar Association and other special interests including members of the Press, to cover up the fact that the election process for appellate judges is unconstitutional.

Consequently, these Judges have been living a lie for 40 years which is now being condoned by the political leadership of Tennessee. This circumstance has deprived “We The People” of our Constitutional right to choose our judges. Unfortunately, the political leadership of Tennessee, would rather have Judges who are appointed by politicians instead of elected by the people as the Constitution requires, Article VI §§3,4; Article VII §§ 4,5.

But these politicians know that an appointment of Judges in lieu of an election is unconstitutional. In order to save face these leaders have introduced legislation to authorize a Constitutional amendment to appoint judges in lieu of elections, which will probably fail, but which cannot be voted upon until November of 2014.

This leaves a gap of 2.5 years between now and then, and as a result The People will be deprived of due process of law in all civil and criminal cases before the Appellate Courts.
I am posting this in the hopes that other ordinary citizens like me who are Friends of the Constitution, will inform those in power that they are violating their oaths of office and unless they address this subject forthwith that they should all be thrown out of office at the first opportunity by the qualified voters, under the Rule of Law.

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