Ramsey Soliciting Ideas for New Judicial District Maps

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is expected today to announce he’s seeking input from the legal community and the general public on what reworked state judicial district maps should look like.

Tennessee’s judicial districts have not been redrawn since 1984. And with districts set to elect their district attorneys general, public defenders and state trial court judges this August, some powerful figures in the General Assembly are saying that this legislative session represents the best chance to improve the efficiency of the districts through redistricting.

“The last time our judicial districts were updated Waylon Jennings and Michael Jackson were at the top of the charts,” Ramsey told TNReport in a statement. “Tennessee is a far different place that it was in 1984. Formerly rural counties have become thoroughly suburban, and our suburban counties now confront problems similar to urban areas. We desperately need to take a fresh look at this judicial map to ensure Tennesseans receive the best possible service from their judges, district attorneys and public defenders.”

At a forum sponsored by the Associated Press last week, Ramsey said Tennessee’s judicial districts are “completely out of whack.”

Ramsey added that he isn’t particularly looking forward to the undertaking. He indicated the process of legislative redistricting last year was a bigger headache than he’d anticipated.

“Really, there’s no political upside to this,” the East Tennessee Republican said. “It is something that I just think is good government and efficiency and making sure that the judiciary operates as efficiently as we do.”

Ramsey also said that, in addition to the public at large, he is requesting input from those that would be directly affected, such as the Trial Judges Association, the District Attorneys General Conference and the Tennessee Bar Association.

Officials with the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts have said they have no opinion on redistricting, but Ramsey has said that the process will likely be controversial.

The debate over judicial redistricting is not a new one. Unlike legislative redistricting, it is not mandated by the Tennessee Constitution. And since the mid-1990s — about 10 years after the last redistricting — state officials have been debating how best to go about it — or whether to do it at all.

In 2007, the Comptroller’s Office awarded a $126,522 contract to the Justice Management Institute and George Mason University to conduct a study of potential judicial redistricting in Tennessee (pdf).

The five-page report after the study came to this conclusion: There was no need for redistricting, but more study was needed.

From the report: “Only a few people provided any thoughts about potential benefits, namely the creation of more time available to justice professionals to process cases, lower caseloads and reduced travel time.”

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter(@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.