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

Selection of state court judges in Tennessee varies by court level. Appellate judges are selected using the Tennessee Plan, a system of commission-selection, political appointment and retention elections. Trial court judges participate in partisan elections, though individual counties have the discretion to instead opt for non-partisan elections.[1]

All elected and retained judges serve eight-year terms that begin on September 1. While most states' judges begin new terms in January, Tennessee's decision to hold general judicial elections in August renders an earlier start time for these terms.[1][2]

Appellate courts

See also: Commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection

The appellate courts (the supreme court, court of appeals and court of criminal appeals) select their judges in an identical manner. Under what has become known as the Tennessee Plan, the governor appoints these judges from a list of three suggestions provided by a nominating commission. If the first list is not to the governor's liking, he or she may request that a second list of nominees be compiled.[1][3]

After serving for at least 30 days, the new appointee stands for retention in the next general election. If filling an interim vacancy, the judge serves out the remainder of the unexpired term before again running for retention to serve a full eight-year term.[1]

Selection of the chief justice or judge

The chief justice of the supreme court is chosen by peer vote, serving in that capacity for four years. The chief judge of each court of appeals is also selected by peer vote, though he or she only serves as chief for a one-year term.[1]

Qualifications

To serve on any of the appellate courts, a judge must be:

  • authorized to practice law in state;
  • a district resident for at least 1 year (for court of appeals judges);
  • a state resident 5 years; and
  • at least 30 years old.[1]

Trial courts

See also: Partisan election of judges

Judges of all trial courts (the circuit court, chancery court, criminal court, probate court and general session court) are elected in partisan elections, though each county may opt for non-partisan elections if they choose.[1]

Trial court judges serve eight-year terms, after which they must run for re-election if they wish to continue serving.[1]

Selection of the presiding judge

The presiding judge of each trial court is selected by peer vote, serving in that capacity for one year.[4]

Qualifications

To serve on any of the trial courts, a judge must be:

  • authorized to practice law in state;
  • a district resident for at least 1 year;
  • a state resident 5 years; and
  • at least 30 years old.[1]

Vacancies

In the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appointments a replacement from a list of three names submitted by the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission. The replacement serves out the remainder of the unexpired term, after which he or she must run in the next general election to continue serving.[1]

Limited jurisdiction courts

See also: Partisan election of judges

Tennessee's limited jurisdiction courts (the general sessions court, juvenile court and municipal court) select their judges exactly as the general jurisdiction trial courts do. Judges are chosen in partisan elections to serve for eight years and must run for re-election if they wish to serve additional terms.[5]

Judicial qualifications are identical to those of the general jurisdiction trial courts.[5][1]

History and 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."[6]

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

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.[7]
  • 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.[8]
  • 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12][13]

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.[14][15]

1994

Twenty years after the repeal, the Tennessee Plan was brought back for the selection of supreme court justices. At this time, a judicial performance evaluation program was created for judges facing retention as well.[16]

1974

The Tennessee Plan was repealed for justices of the supreme court.[16]

1971

All judges were elected until 1971, when the Tennessee Plan was adopted by legislative statute.[16]

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.[16]

1853: New constitution

Tennessee adopted a new state constitution in 1853. Included in that document is the line, "The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state." 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.[13][16]

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.[13]

1835

Tenure of supreme court justices was changed from "good behavior" to twelve-year terms. All other judges' terms were reduced to eight years.[16]

1796

All judges were elected by the general assembly, serving for the duration of their "good behavior."[16]

Selection of federal judges

United States District Court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the U.S. Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[17]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links

References

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Tennessee," accessed September 11, 2014
  2. Information emailed to Judgepedia by the Director of Communications for the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts on March 24 and April 3, 2014.
  3. American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Tennessee; Judicial Nominating Commissions," accessed September 11, 2014
  4. Tennessee State Courts, "Understanding Your Court System: A Guide to the Judicial Branch," accessed September 11, 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Tennessee; Limited Jurisdiction Courts," accessed September 12, 2014
  6. Justice at Stake, "Proposed Amendment to Tennessee Constitution Would Politicize Judicial Selection," March 11, 2013
  7. Tennessee Report, "Judicial-Selection Measure Pass on First Run Through TN Senate," April 23, 2012
  8. WKRNTV, "Measure requiring popular election of judges fails," April 17, 2012
  9. The Republic, "House approves giving lawmakers confirmation power over governor's Supreme Court appointments," April 26, 2012
  10. Tennessee Report, "Lawmaker Questions Appropriateness of Justices Lobbying Legislators," February 15, 2011
  11. The Tennessean, "State's plan for electing judges is working despite 'shop-worn' attacks," July 31, 2011
  12. Knox News, "'Slobberknocker' of debate is expected," August 19, 2011
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Huffington Post, "In Tennessee, a Choice: Should Judges Be Elected or Appointed?," August 8, 2011
  14. Tennessee Report, "Kelsey Amendment Models TN Judicial Selection After Federal System," October 18, 2011
  15. Missouri News Horizon, "House Should Play Role in Kelsey Judicial Confirmation Reform Proposal: Harwell," October 20, 2011
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 American Judicature Society, "History of Reform Efforts: Tennessee," accessed September 12, 2014
  17. US Courts, "FAQ: Federal Judges"
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