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Haslam: Judicial campaign could hurt amendment

May 8th, 2014 9:40 am by ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press

Haslam: Judicial campaign could hurt amendment

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to reporters after an appearance at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.(AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he's concerned an effort by fellow Republicans to defeat three Democratic state Supreme Court justices in August could "muddy the waters" for a separate constitutional amendment on judicial selection that goes before voters two months later.

But Haslam told reporters after an appearance at Lipscomb University that he has not tried to dissuade Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey from targeting the justices.

"He has the full right to go do that and make his argument," Haslam said. "It's just not something I'm going to be taking part in."

Ramsey has been meeting with business leaders, victims' rights advocates and others to make the case that the three justices facing election this summer should go. If even one of the three is defeated, the likely Republican replacement would shift the partisan balance of the five-member court as it prepares to appoint the next state attorney general.

Voters in August will be asked to decide whether to retain or replace Justices Gary Wade, Sharon Lee and Cornelia Clark. All three were appointed by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. Two of the court's Republicans are retiring, and their replacements won't be on the ballot.

Ramsey said in an interview earlier this week that he sees no reason not to mount a campaign against the Democratic justices.

"It's so hypocritical for these judges to say that we want retention elections, but what they're really saying is: 'We want retention elections that nobody pays any attention to so we get a de-facto lifetime appointment,'" he said.

Haslam said he is focused on the campaign to Vote Yes on Amendment 2 in the November general election. The proposed amendment largely mirrors Tennessee's current system for selecting and retaining judges on the state appellate courts.

It would maintain the governor's power to appoint Supreme Court and appellate court judges, but also would give the Legislature the power to reject the governor's selections. The amendment would also keep the system of retention elections for appellate court judges.

"The whole issue of how we select judges is fairly confusing to anybody anyway, and is what Amendment 2 is about," Haslam said. "One of my main concerns is that we not muddy the waters for Amendment 2 in November. That's our job, to hopefully get that message clear."

Tennessee's system of selecting and electing judges has come under fire from critics who say Tennessee's appellate court judges should be elected and not appointed and opponents should be able to challenge them every election.

Supporters of the current system say it keeps politics out of the judiciary, while opponents argue the state constitution says Supreme Court justices "shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state."

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