From state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, writing in the Chattanooga TFP
It is the height of irony that the loudest defenders of retention elections are generally the staunchest critics of a growing grassroots movement to urge voters to reject some of the judges on the ballot this year. Whether it is the Trial Lawyers Association or the Chamber of Commerce, any group, liberal or conservative, should have the right to inform the voters of their views. It is an election, isn’t it?
Since the retention vote system was implemented in 1971, only one judge has not been retained. It was not on the basis of partisanship. That vote was primarily due to a controversial decision regarding the death penalty. This year, crime is again the issue. Two cases specifically have garnered media attention. In one case, the actions of the Supreme Court removed Arthur Copeland, a cold-blooded contract killer, from death row. Copeland was subsequently released from prison. Two years later, he was arrested for a violent rape.
In another case, the court vacated the death sentence of Leonard Smith, who admitted killing two elderly shopkeepers in one night during a crime spree.
And there are more. We are talking about horrific and monstrous murders committed in Tennessee. The majority of Tennesseans have made clear they want the death penalty implemented for the most heinous crimes in our state. But the Supreme Court remains reticent.
From Frank Cagle’s column in Metro Pulse:
The three sitting justices are, by all accounts, excellent jurists. You can always pick through cases and find something to argue about. I think it is a mistake to try and paint these justices as “soft on crime” or “anti-business.” If you want to oust them then just come clean. The Republicans are in charge and they want their own team at the court. Because the other team has had control for 100 years.
It is being suggested that the current justices are too concerned about legal niceties when it comes to executing prisoners. Given the case of Paul Gregory House, the Union County man who spent 22 years on death row until DNA evidence cleared him, don’t you want to have justices that are careful about who gets executed?
I firmly believe that while we have three good justices on the court at present, I also believe that there are three equally good Republican justices-in-waiting.
To suggest it is a gross miscarriage to turn them out seems to conveniently ignore your basic argument. People get turned out of office every election cycle, some of them good people, but the voters wanted a change. It’s how our democracy works.
Retiring Tennessee Supreme Court justice William Koch, who will soon become dean of the Nashville School of Law, wants to keep politics and the justice system, reports the Tennessean. His comments came Wednesday in Lebanon after a speech to the 15th Judicial District Bar Association.
“When we start getting into partisan races or contested races, that is going to introduce the issue of campaign funding, and in other states where there is campaign funding people think justice can be bought,” Koch said. “I don’t think justice should be bought.”
The debate has been fueled by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s support to not retain three Democratic Supreme Court justices, appointed by then Gov. Phil Bredesen, who are up for retention election in August.
There is a constitutional amendment on the November ballot proposing a selection system similar to the current system for selecting and retaining judges. It would give the legislature authority to confirm the governor’s selection and would keep retention elections.
“I think the current system is a good one,” Koch said. “I think the system being proposed in November is good and can work as well.”