(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), January 23, 2018 — A resolution that would allow Tennessee voters to decide if they want their elected representatives to select the state’s attorney general (AG), rather than the current system of allowing five appointed Supreme Court justices to make that choice, was approved 7 to 2 today by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Joint Resolution 88, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), begins the process of amending the State Constitution, which if approved by voters, calls for the AG to be selected by lawmakers beginning March 2023.
Unlike any other state, Tennessee’s AG is appointed by justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court for a term of eight years. Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor and stand for a retention vote.
“The reason for this legislation is two-fold,” said Sen. Yager. “It will provide for a more transparent process as our rules require legislative deliberations be made in public. The second is that the appointing authority will be more broad-based and accountable.”
Supreme Court justices are not required to have open meetings during their selection process.
“Currently, the attorney general is twice removed from those he or she is supposed to represent – the people of Tennessee. This means you have appointees appointing the AG which is too far removed,” he continued.
The resolution calls for the AG to be elected to a four-year term. It also provides that the AG be 30 years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, an attorney duly licensed in Tennessee and a resident of the state for at least seven years preceding the election. Under the measure, appointment would be made by joint vote of both houses of the General Assembly.
The amendment process requires a simple majority by the 110th General Assembly currently in session, and a two-thirds majority in the 111th General Assembly which is elected in 2018, before going to voters in a statewide referendum in 2022. In order to be adopted, a proposed constitutional amendment must receive one more vote than half the number of votes cast in the gubernatorial election.
“This resolution moves this antiquated process from the 19th to the 21st century,” Yager concluded.
The bill now moves to the Senate floor for final consideration.