May 29, 2009
Yager votes to approve new method for selecting state’s appellate and Supreme Court Judges /
Supports allowing the people to decide
(NASHVILLE, TN), May 29, 2009 — State Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman) said today he voted to approve legislation that
provides a new method for selecting the state’s appellate and Supreme Court Judges. The measure was approved in the Senate and the House of Representatives this week as the General Assembly is winding down the 2009 legislative session.
“First, I support the resolution that calls for a Constitutional Convention to let the people decide whether or not they want to elect popularly
the judges or opt to continue a system of nomination by a commission, followed by a retention vote from voters,” said Senator Yager. “Until that can be accomplished, we must have a better system in place. This bill provides a fairer and more transparent system than the current plan which is dominated by special interests. The overriding issue is preserving the integrity of the judicial system.”
The action comes as the Judicial Selection Commission, a component of Tennessee’s current plan for appointing judges, is set to expire next month. Under that plan, called the Tennessee Plan, the commission that nominates judges is selected from lists submitted by various legal organizations to the Speakers of the House and Senate and governor.
The bill, SB 1573, 17-member Judicial Nominating Commission that would have at least 10 attorney members. After being appointed through this process, the judges would stand for approval by the voters who could decide whether or not to “retain” or “replace” them. Currently, citizens vote “yes” or “no” on the ballot regarding the retention of judges.
If voters decide to replace a judge, an interim judge would be appointed by the governor until the next election. At that point, the people
could decide who would fill the slot through a popular election, which is the same process by which the state’s trial judges are currently selected.
The bill also bans lobbyists or employers of lobbyists from serving on the Nominating Commission. Finally, the legislation provides public
access to every aspect of the nominating process, providing greater transparency.
“There needed to be more flexibility and public transparency with these appointments,” added Yager. “This bill does work towards accomplishing this. However, the people should be allowed to weigh-in on this most important decision regarding our judicial system and that is why I support the resolution to allow them to vote via a Constitutional Convention limited to this purpose or a referendum.”
Tennessee’s Constitution says judges must be “elected by the qualified voters of the state.” The debate in the legislature has focused on
whether or not the selection process with a retention vote meets that test. Yager says allowing the people to decide on this matter through the Constitutional route would be the optimal solution and would put to rest any questions regarding that matter.
The bill will come back to the Senate for approval of a House amendment next week.