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Ramsey backs constitutional amendment on judge selection

March 22nd, 2014 12:20 am by Hank Hayes

Ramsey backs constitutional amendment on judge selection

RON RAMSEY

KINGSPORT — Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey publicly backed a November ballot measure Friday intended to clarify how state Supreme Court and appeals court judges are picked.

Ramsey encouraged judges and others attending the Tennessee Judicial Conference (TJC) at the MeadowView Marriott to get behind a constitutional amendment that would empower the governor to appoint Supreme Court and appeals court judges subject to confirmation by the General Assembly.

An appointed judge would serve an eight-year term, and could serve another term via a retention election by voters.

"It's the best way of doing this (judge selection)," Ramsey, R-Blountville, said of the constitutional amendment to be decided by voters this fall.

The ballot issue also has the support of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The constitutional amendment, if passed, would validate the so-called "Tennessee Plan" allowing governors to control judicial appointments.

A five-member Special Supreme Court convened solely to hear a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the way appellate judges are initially chosen and later stand for re-election to office ruled last Monday the current retention election system does not violate the state's constitution.

A lawsuit, filed in 2012 by Nashville attorney John Jay Hooker, challenged the "Tennessee Plan" and maintained it violated the Tennessee Constitution.

The court found that, while the constitution requires voters be given an opportunity to decide by voting who may be a judge, it does not limit the process to a contested popular election.

The court also declined to rule on the constitutionality of the 17-member Governor's Commission for Judicial Appointments, which by executive order replaced the Judicial Nominating Commission and follows a similar protocol for appointments.

Ramsey reminded TJC attendees that retention elections are still elections.

"If you look at the (state) constitution, it says 'Judges should be elected by the qualified voters of the state' ... (but) we never changed it," Ramsey noted. "Hopefully, that (constitutional amendment) passes. I'm all for it."

Ramsey also reflected on last year's unsuccessful legislative attempt to redraw judicial districts for the first time since 1984.

He advocated a plan to reduce the number of judicial districts from 31 to 29, and it passed in the state Senate. The plan, however, failed in the House on the last day of the 2013 legislative session.

The plan's demise means judicial districts remain unchanged for the 2014 elections of judges, district attorneys and public defenders.

Ramsey indicated judicial redistricting still needs to be resurrected.

"I do think it's something that needs to be looked at," Ramsey said.

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