VOL. 124 | NO. 85 | Friday, May 1, 2009
Ramsey Seeks Agreement on Judicial Selection
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday he wants to strike an agreement on changes to Tennessee's system of filling state Supreme Court vacancies within the next two weeks.
The Blountville Republican wants to eliminate the state's Judicial Selection Commission that is set to expire June 30 and let the governor independently fill all vacancies. He is also calling for current justices to stand in contested re-election campaigns.
A rival measure advancing in the House would keep in place the current system of having justices stand for yes-no retention elections when their terms end. The House bill would also remove control by legal groups such as the state bar association, defense lawyers and prosecutors over who serves on the 17-member Judicial Selection Commission that is responsible for presenting candidates for the governor to choose from – a proposal Ramsey supported last year.
Ramsey wouldn't say on what grounds he expects to find a compromise with the House.
"Obviously if I say what I'd be willing to go back to, I think magically that's where it would end up," he said.
Ramsey said his personal belief is that candidates for the Supreme Court shouldn't have to run in popular elections "in this modern world of campaigning."
But he said his reading of the state constitution is that Supreme Court justices should be elected the same way the governor, lawmakers and local officials are. He said previous Supreme Court decisions that the retention votes are legal are the result of what he calls "activist courts."
"I believe that when the constitution was written, it meant things," he said.
The speaker said he supports a referendum on whether to put retention votes into the constitution. But the earliest voters could evaluate that measure would be in November 2014.
That means justices would have to stand in contested elections in August 2014. Justice Sharon Lee of Maryville, who was appointed to the high court last year, would be up for election in August of 2010.
Read SB2114 and HB1448 at http://www.capitol.tn.gov
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