Social conservatives say yes. They hope to toss out judges who buck their hard-right philosophy and elect home schoolers, Bible study teachers and gun dealers to decide the meaning of the state constitution.
But proponents of our yes/no elections say that system has given Tennessee one of the most professional judiciaries in the nation. They live in fear of contested elections, arguing it would put justice up for sale in Tennessee. They say it would pimp out the bench by forcing judges to shake down special interests for campaign cash, promise the moon to voters and kiss babies all over the state.
Today, Gov. Bill Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell joined forces to try to answer the question once and for all. They proposed a state constitutional amendment to delete language that seems to require contested elections and to enshrine the current yes/no elections as our system. If the legislature adopts the resolution by majority votes this year and by two-thirds votes in the next General Assembly, the question goes on the ballot for voter approval in the 2014 election.
“I believe the current process has worked well during my time in office and I’ve been pleased with both the quality of candidates and the process for choosing them,” Haslam said. “The judiciary is the third and equal branch of government and we are here to make this recommendation because we believe it is important to our constitution to clearly reflect the reality of how we select judges.”
“I’m pleased to see that there appears to be an interest in making sure the constitution accurately reflects what we’re doing,” Fowler said. “Obviously, the amendment needs to be worded carefully to prevent ambiguity in the future. What we do need to have is some opportunity for meaningful input. Senator Kelsey has proposed that the legislature confirm judges appointed by governor. Right now, there’s really nobody that the public could effectively hold accountable for who’s on the court. Under the current system, the governor could always say, ‘Well, I got stuck with three people. I didn’t really like any of them. But don’t be mad at me. Be mad at the selection commission.’”
“Who knows what would happen then? I don’t know what I would say at that point. I would still be of the opinion that doing it the way we do it now is the best system.”
Update: Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, vows to press ahead with his legislation requiring the popular election of Supreme Court justices. Casada loves lost causes.