Judicial selection in Tennessee

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Tennessee
Seal of Tennessee.png
Tennessee Supreme Court
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   8 years
Tennessee Court of Appeals
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   8 years
Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   8 years
Tennessee Chancery Courts
Method:   Partisan elections
Term:   8 years
Tennessee Criminal Court
Method:   Partisan elections
Term:   8 years
Tennessee Circuit Court
Method:   Partisan elections
Term:   8 years

Judicial selection in Tennessee varies depending on the type of court. Appellate judges participate in the Tennessee Plan, or a Commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection. Trial court judges participate in partisan elections, though individual counties have the discretion to require non-partisan elections.

Terms

All judges in the state serve eight-year terms.

Supreme Court

Justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court are appointed by the governor, after selection from the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission. At least 30 days after appointment, the justice stands for retention in the next general election. At that time, she or he fulfills the remainder of the unexpired term. After the next retention election, the justice serves a full eight-year term.

Courts of Appeal

Judges of the Tennessee Court of Appeals and Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals are selected under the Tennessee Plan as well. The governor appoints from a list provided by the Nominating Commission. They serve the remainder of the unexpired term after being retained, but subsequently run in a retention election every eight years.

The chief judge is elected by the other members of the court for a one-year term. Tennessee is one of twenty-one states in which the chief justice is elected by other justices.

Trial courts

Judges of the all the trial courts are elected in partisan elections, though each county can determine whether allow for non-partisan elections.

The trial courts in the state are: Circuit Court, Chancery Courts, Criminal Court, Probate Court and General Session Court.

Trial court judges serve eight-year terms.[1]

Vacancies

If a vacancy occurs, the governor appointments a replacement from a list generated by the Nominating Commission. The replacement fills the remainder of the unexpired term, then runs in the next general election.

The presiding judges are selected in each district for a one-year term.

Qualifications for judgeships

In order to serve on the court, the following qualifications must be met:

  • Supreme Court
authorized to practice law in Tennessee;
at least 35 years of age; and
resident of the state for at least five years.
  • All other courts (appellate and trial)
authorized to practice law in Tennessee;
at least 30 years of age; and
resident of the district serving for at least one year.

[2]

Reform efforts

2014

"This Is Tennessee" ad supporting Amendment 2 (2014)

A 2014 state ballot measure titled Tennessee Judicial Selection, Amendment 2, would modify the process of judicial selection for the state's appellate courts. If the measure passes, supreme court and intermediate appellate court judges must be appointed by the Governor, confirmed by the legislature and face retention elections at the end of their terms. The main change would be the increased influence of the state legislature in the process.

A campaign ad supporting the amendment says that it will create additional checks and balances to the selection process. The judicial selection reform organization Justice at Stake voiced their opposition to the amendment, saying that it would "inject partisan politics into the state’s judicial selection process."[3]

For more information, see: Ballotpedia: Tennessee Judicial Selection, Amendment 2 (2014).

1853 Constitution

Tennessee adopted a new Constitution in 1853.[4] Included in that document is the line, "The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state."[5] Many states in the nation adopted popular election of judges at this time in history. In this constitution, all judges also switched to serving eight-year terms.

Though the state was required to ratify a new Constitution to gain readmittance to the Union following the Civil War, the provision regarding the popular election of judges remained the same.

1971

All judges were elected until 1971, when the Tennessee Plan was adopted by legislative statute.

The plan created the current system of judicial selection in the state, albeit with deviations between then and now. Under this method, the governor appoints a justice or judge to fill a vacancy on one of the appellate courts. The executive chooses from three candidates, who are screened and selected by the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission. The justice or judge stands for retention in the next general election (at least 30 days after appointment) and then at the end of subsequent terms.[6]

1974

Only three years later, the method of judicial selection was repealed for justices of the Supreme Court.

1994

Twenty years after the repeal, the method was brought back for Supreme Court justices. At this time, a judicial performance evaluation program was created for judges facing retention as well.

2011

Members of the Tennessee Legislature are attempting to bring back popular elections for all judges. To these legislators, the explanation is simple: the constitutional provision that calls for qualified voters to elect judges mandates popular elections.[7]

However, the opposing viewpoint maintains that retention elections ARE elections, allowing voters to choose judges. (The counter to that is since the Tennessee Plan was adopted, only one judge was not retained.) Supporters of so-called "merit selection" are also prepared to go one step farther, amending the Constitution to better reflect the current method of selection in the state.[8]

As the debate rages on, legislation designed to revert to popular elections passed the Judiciary Committee in March 2011. Next, it will head to another committee in the Senate, then, if approved, head to the Tennessee House of Representatives.[9][10]

Proposed legislation

In October 2011, Republican State Senator Brian Kelsey proposed SJR 0475. The constitutional amendment would change the way judges are selected in the state, switching from the Tennessee Plan's reliance on the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission to select nominees, to allowing the Governor control over appointment. After selection, the Tennessee State Senate would be responsible for confirming the appointee. The amendment was introduced prior to the 2012 legislative session, which will begin on January 10, 2012.[11][12]

2012

In 2012, three main proposals were introduced in the Tennessee Legislature regarding judicial selection.

  • Adopting the federal system of selection:
In April 2012, the state Senate voted 23-8 to advance the measure introduced by Senator Kelsey. The House also approved a measure to adopt the federal system of selection. The major difference between this and the current system is that the legislature would have authority to confirm the governor's appointees before they can join the court.[13]
  • Providing for popular election of appellate justices:
Also in April 2012, a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for the popular election of appellate justices failed in committee. Supporters of the amendment have expressed an interest to continue the fight.[14]
  • Including current system as constitutional amendment:
The idea favored by Governor Bill Haslam is to continue using the same method of selection, but creating a constitutional amendment that supports the method. This proposal was also rejected by the legislature, though it had the backing of Republican leaders in both chambers.[15]

See also

References

External links

TennesseeUnited States District Court for the Eastern District of TennesseeUnited States District Court for the Middle District of TennesseeUnited States District Court for the Western District of TennesseeUnited States bankruptcy court, Eastern District of TennesseeUnited States bankruptcy court, Middle District of TennesseeUnited States bankruptcy court, Western District of TennesseeUnited States Court of Appeals for the Sixth CircuitTennessee Supreme CourtTennessee Court of AppealsTennessee Court of Criminal AppealsTennessee Circuit CourtTennessee Chancery CourtsTennessee Criminal CourtTennessee Probate CourtTennessee General Sessions CourtTennessee Juvenile CourtTennessee Municipal CourtTennessee countiesTennessee judicial newsTennessee judicial electionsJudicial selection in TennesseeTennesseeTemplate.jpg