Critics decry ‘deceptive’ claim that Amendment 2 ‘protects our right to vote’

In robo calls and TV ads, proponents of Amendment 2 are using the line, “Yes on Two protects our right to vote for judges.” And some critics are calling foul, reports the Commercial Appeal.

That line used by the Yes on 2 campaign has prompted criticism by opponents — and even some supporters — of the amendment, who say it’s “political spin” or “deceptive” at best, or, at worst, “an absolute fabrication,” in the words of one opponent.

The amendment, which voters will decide Tuesday, deletes from the constitution these words: “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state,” and replaces them with these: “Judges of the Supreme Court or any intermediate appellate court shall be appointed for a full term or to fill a vacancy by and at the discretion of the governor; shall be confirmed by the Legislature; and thereafter, shall be elected in a retention election by the qualified voters of the state….”

…The president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau, Lacy Upchurch, (uses the ‘protects our right to vote’ line) …. in a statewide TV ad by the Yes on 2 campaign… and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson says it does in recorded calls to the homes of Tennessee voters.

Vote No on 2 campaign treasurer Forrest Shoaf, a Nashville lawyer and conservative political activist, disagrees. “That’s an absolute fabrication,” he said. “In fact, it deprives us of the right to vote which was granted in the 1854 constitution. Retention elections are a fiction. In 43 years that there (have) been retention elections (in Tennessee), only one appellate judge has ever lost one.

John Crisp, spokesman for the Yes on 2 campaign, said that the phrase isn’t deceptive as an abbreviated version of a larger message used by the campaign in various other avenues.

…If the amendment is ratified, voters will be waiting up to four times longer — up to eight years — before they get their first direct vote on the appointed appellate judges than they do under the current system.

The language of the amendment is clear that the five Tennessee Supreme Court justices and the 12 judges on each the Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals “shall be appointed for a full term or to fill a vacancy by” the governor. A full judicial term in Tennessee is eight years.

Currently, vacancies in those judgeships are always filled by the governor, without legislative confirmation, but no more than two years lapse before voters get their first chance to retain or replace the judge.

A state attorney general’s opinion issued in 2013 says Amendment 2 is “unambiguous” on the ability of the governor to appoint an appellate judge for a full eight-year term and to fill vacancies, but opponents and supporters of the amendment disagree on when retention elections would occur for midterm appointees.

Some believe the governor’s appointee will be up for a vote at the next statewide August election. Others believe no vote will occur until the end of the term.