By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Senate on Thursday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to give lawmakers the power to refuse the governor’s appointments to appeals courts in Tennessee.
The chamber voted 29-2 in favor of the resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown. If the measure passes the House by a two-thirds margin, it will go on the ballot in next year’s general election.
The proposal would maintain the current system for holding yes-no retention elections for appointed Supreme Court justices and appeals judges. It would do away with an independent nomination commission that narrows down the list of candidates for the governor to choose from. That system would be replaced by a confirmation process in the General Assembly.
Supporters say the constitutional amendment would continue to prevent high-dollar judicial elections in Tennessee, while opponents argue that it conflicts with the state constitution’s provision that Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”
“I assumed when Republicans took over we would immediately start electing judges,” said Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plans, who voted against the measure. “But somehow the same powerful group of lawyers and judges that controlled the Democrats through the years suddenly got control over the Republicans.”
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, dismissed concerns about politics and money influencing the courts in contested elections.
“I’ve always thought that what we are doing is a corruption of the word election,” he said. “I believe in voting, I believe the problems with democracy can be solved with more democracy.”
Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said she voted in favor of putting the amendment before voters in hopes that they will reject it.
“If the people vote this this down, they will finally get to vote for their judges as the constitution says right now,” she said.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said he was surprised by the lopsided vote in favor of the measure but pleased that it now nears a vote. But the Blountville Republican said he won’t go out of his way to drum up public support for the measure.
“I can think about three or four Senate races I will be very active in at that time,” he told reporters later on Thursday. “If people ask me where I am, I’ll tell them. But that’s it.”