Kelsey Would Follow Federal Model for Judges

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), October 18, 2011 — State Senator Brian Kelsey
(R-Germantown) today introduced Senate Joint Resolution 475, a
constitutional amendment to appoint state appellate judges in a manner
similar to the federal model. Under the resolution, the governor would
appoint judges to the Supreme Court and state appellate courts, subject
to confirmation by the Senate. These judges will serve eight year
The constitutional resolution is the third in a series of announcements
by Kelsey in his “12 for ’12” initiative for the next legislative
session, which is set to reconvene January 10, 2012.
Many expect judicial selection to be one of the hot-button issues of the
2012 legislative session. The newly created Judicial Nominating
Commission is set to begin expiration June 30, 2012 unless the General
Assembly decides to renew the commission prior to that date.

Senator Kelsey has been a leading opponent of the current system for
selecting appellate judges. Under the current system, the Judicial
Nominating Commission proposes three names to the governor, who appoints
one from that list to become judge. Judges are then “elected” in a
yes-no “election.” The state constitution, however, requires that
Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the
“The current system is unconstitutional,” said Senator Kelsey. “This is
a compromise proposal that will give us quality judges who are
responsive to the people.”
This measure could be on the ballot as early as November 2014. Before
proceeding to a vote by the people, the resolution must be approved by a
simple majority of the legislature in 2012 and must then be approved by
a two-thirds majority of both chambers in the following legislative
U.S. Supreme Court justices, Courts of Appeals judges, and District
Court judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United
States Senate, as stated in the U.S. Constitution. The “Tennessee Plan”
for selecting judges utilizes a 17-member Judicial Nominating
Commission, including 10 attorney members, which reviews applicants and
sends the governor a panel of three nominees for consideration. The
governor must then appoint one of the nominees or reject the panel and
request a second panel. After being appointed through this process, the
judges continue to stand for approval by the voters who decide whether
or not to “retain” or “replace” them.
Under Sen. Kelsey’s proposal, Supreme Court justices would serve
staggered eight-year terms with the possibility for reappointment. Only
state Supreme Court and appellate judges would be affected by the
proposed changes. Trial court judges would continue to run in contested
The Tennessee Plan has been a very controversial system since its
inception in the late 1970s. It has been criticized heavily for its ties
to special interests, lack of transparency, and failure to include
citizen input in the initial selection process. As former Governor
Bredesen found in his political wrangling with the commission, it also
ties the hands of the governor in putting forth the best candidate for
office. This resolution provides a simplified system that would remove
politics from the selection of state judges.
“Tennessee deserves and the Constitution demands a more open system for
appointing judges,” concluded Sen. Kelsey.

2 thoughts on “Kelsey Would Follow Federal Model for Judges

  1. Eric Holcombe

    “”This is a compromise proposal that will give us quality judges who are
    responsive to the people.”
    The only thing being compromised is the state constitution.

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