If Amendment 2 Fails, Bell Plans Direct-Elections-for-Judges Legislation

Press Release from Mike Bell, R-Riceville, Chairman of the Tennessee Senate Government Operations Committee, Oct. 13, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn., October 13, 2014 — State Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) said today he is already working on a legislative contingency plan for how appellate judges should be elected in the event that voters reject Amendment Two to the State Constitution in the upcoming general election.

Amendment Two proposes to constitutionalize the current retention vote system for choosing the state’s appellate judges with some modifications that mirror the federal judicial selection method. Early voting on the proposed change to the Constitution begins Wednesday.

“The impetus for putting Amendment Two on the ballot is that the General Assembly was not comfortable that the state is in compliance with the State Constitution through our current ‘retain or replace’ system of choosing appellate judges,” said Senator Bell, who is Chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. “I agree that we are not in compliance with that requirement. The Constitution clearly states judges shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state, not stand for a retention vote eight years after being selected by the governor.”

“This is not the first time that an amendment has been presented to the people to constitutionalize the selection process with a retention vote,” added Bell. “It was proposed as part of a constitutional amendment presented to voters for ratification in 1978. Out of 13 amendments, this was the only one rejected by voters; however, the appellate selection process continued contrary to the plain language of the State Constitution and the will of the people who voted it down.”

“That cannot be the case this time if Amendment Two is rejected,” he added. “We are sworn to uphold the Constitution and if voters disagree with the proposed amendment, changes must be made. It shouldn’t take twice for that to happen. We need to get it right.”

There are 29 appellate court positions in Tennessee affected by the proposed retention vote system amendment. The state’s 155 popularly elected trial court positions are elected through popular elections.

Bell said he is considering election of appellate judges through districts, rather than statewide elections in his proposal. He also said he would consider non-partisan elections, rather than nomination of candidates through party primaries.

“I am looking over several proposals to see what would be the best fit for Tennessee,” he added.

Bell said if voters reject the Amendment 2, he will file the legislation as soon as possible after the November election to give lawmakers an opportunity to review it before the General Assembly convenes in January.