NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says his call for the state’s first judicial redistricting in nearly 30 years is an attempt to run government more efficiently and not motivated by politics.
The Blountville Republican announced Monday that he’s requesting that the Senate Judiciary Committee examine judicial districting and encourage individuals and organizations across the state to submit redistricting plans that promote “efficiency, effectiveness and access.”
Ramsey and other backers of his initiative noted that the last judicial redistricting occurred in 1984. Tennessee currently has 31 judicial districts that determine where the area’s judges, district attorneys and public defenders serve.
“There are some districts that are way over a judge or two or three or four, and some districts are under one or two,” Ramsey told reporters at a news conference. “I think this will give … us an opportunity to figure out how to take that same money, reallocate it and make it work much more efficiently.”
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said that Tennessee had only five counties with 100,000 people or more after the 1980 census, and now the state has 12.
“We need to take a look at this map with modern eyes in order to ensure resources are allocated in the most efficient way possible,” said the Collierville Republican. “I’d like to encourage all Tennesseans with an interest to join this process and make sure their voices are heard and their perspectives considered.”
Ramsey said he’s talked with judges across the state about redistricting and one of the main concerns is the possibility of incumbent judges running against each other. He noted that some lawmakers faced the same circumstances when legislative redistricting occurred last year.
“That’s the way it works, look at legislative redistricting,” he said. “Some of them (judges) may not have a district to run in.”
Ramsey also addressed criticism that his intentions may be politically motivated, saying his main reason for involving the public is to remove politics.
“I’m very open … to taking any plan from anybody and molding it into the one we pass,” said Ramsey, adding that he’s allowing about a month for plans to be submitted. “This is something that has no political upside, it is all about good government.”
To be considered, Ramsey said submitted plans must use 2010 federal census data and redraw districts for the entire state. They must contain a total of 31 districts or fewer and districts must be made up of whole counties.
Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association, acknowledged “there always needs to be careful analysis of the way in which the districts are laid out and their caseloads.”
“The most important thing is whether you have the right level of judicial resources, not what counties which judge is in,” he said.
Ramsey said he intends for judges to have the resources they need to handle their caseloads.
“Drawing the districts may be the easy part,” he said. “Then we’ll have to come back … and pass a bill to allocate the resources within those specific districts that we’ve drawn.”
Full guidelines and instructions on how to submit a judicial district plan, go to: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/judredist/judredist.html .