Senate Launches Push to Have Legislature Choose Attorney General

The Senate Wednesday launched an effort to amend Tennessee’s constitution to allow the Legislature to select the state attorney general.
The proposal (SJR196) would repeal a provision in the current state constitution, in effect since 1870, that requires the state Supreme Court to appoint the attorney general.
Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, sponsor of the resolution, said Tennessee is the only state in the nation with such a system and it creates a conflict of interest for the attorney general to present cases to the body that hired him.
Green also argued that the attorney general is “twice removed” from being answerable to the people since justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the governor rather than elected by voters.
“In essence, we have appointees appointing,” he said.
The sponsor cited current Attorney General Bob Cooper’s refusal to file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act – as did many elected attorneys general in other states – as an example that “clearly our present system is not working.
Green also argued that popular election of the attorney general, the system in place for 43 states, makes the position too political. In 2010, he said, 10 of the 43 elected state attorneys general were campaigning for governor while serving.
The sponsor’s arguments were sharply disputed by Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, and Doug Overbey, R-Maryville.
Overbey said no Tennessee attorney general has ever gone on to be elected governor, showing the present system results in attorneys general providing “honest and objective” legal advice “without regard to political winds.”
Kyle said a legislator-selected attorney general would be obliged to “kowtow to us.”
The resolution was approved 22-9 in the Senate. It now goes to the House. If approved there during the 108th General Assembly, it would then face approval again by the 109th General Assembly before being scheduled for a statewide referendum in 2018.

Leave a Reply