News release from Vanderbilt University:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The end of the state Judicial Nominating Commission will not cause any hitches in the nomination of judges in Tennessee including a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder, said a Vanderbilt Law School professor.
The state legislature is shutting down the commission June 30, and voters will not vote on the amendment outlining the new procedure to pick judges until next year.
Holder plans to retire Aug. 31, 2014. The Judicial Nominating Commission has been involved in presenting nominees to the governor for Supreme Court and appeals court vacancies.
“In my view, Tennessee law has been amended over the years to permit for the selection of appellate judges and interim trial judges to continue uninterrupted and with only minor changes from the status quo when the commission expires,” writes Brian T. Fitzpatrick, professor of law at Vanderbilt Law School, in a paper for The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, Sunsetting the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission: What Now?
News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
Nashville, Tenn. – Three judges, one magistrate and 21 attorneys have applied to fill anticipated 2014 vacancies on the Tennessee Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals.
The openings are the result of announcements by Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Cottrell and Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Joseph Tipton that they will not seek re-election in August 2014, creating vacancies effective Sept. 1, 2014. Because statutory provisions for the Judicial Nominating Commission expire June 30, 2013, the commission will meet this month to select a slate of candidates for Gov. Bill Haslam to choose from.
…The Judicial Nominating Commission will meet Thursday, June 27 in Chattanooga to interview and hear public comments regarding the 15 applicants who have applied to fill the vacancy on the Court of Criminal Appeals Eastern Division.
The Judicial Nominating Commission will meet Friday, June 28 in Nashville to interview and hear public comments regarding the 10 applicants who have applied to fill the vacancy on the Court of Appeals Middle Division.
(The panel is still accepting applications for a third 2014 vacancy — the seat now held by West Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge Alan Highers.) Note: List of the applicants is below.
State legislators would pick nominees for Tennessee’s U.S. Senate seats under a bill approved by a state Senate committee with unanimous Republican support on Tuesday.
The bill by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, calls for the House and Senate Republican Caucuses, meeting jointly, to choose the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. The Democratic caucuses, in turn, would select the Democratic nominee.
The new system would not take effect until after the 2014 general election, meaning U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander would face reelection under the current system of voters picking nominees in contested primary elections. But if the bill (SB471) passes, senators would be chosen by the new process.
The bill (SB471) was appoved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee with all seven Republican members backing it. One Democrat, Sen. Reginald Tate of Memphis, voted no and the other Democratic member abstained.
Niceley noted that, prior to passage of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913, state legislators directly picked U.S. senators. Senators have since been chosen by popular election, but Niceley said that Constitution does not say how candidates for the Senate must be chosen.
Most states have contested primaries for the Republican and Democratic nominations, but some have party caucus meetings instead. Under his plan, which Niceley said originated with the Goldwater Institute, legislators would basically act as a caucus picking nominees.
“That gets us back about half of what we lost in 1913, maybe a little bit more,” said Niceley.
He said “everybody agrees that Washington is broke” and his proposal is a step toward repair, selecting candidates while bypassing the Washington network of fundraising and lobbyists.
“This is sort of jerking their chain (in Washington),” he said. “If we don’t have the nerve to do this, we don’t deserve to be sitting here.”
— UPDATE: The bill cleared its first hurdle in the House, the State Government Subcommittee, on a voice vote Wednesday with Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, as sponsor.
The House gave final approval Monday to a statewide referendum in November, 2014, on amending the Tennessee constitution to allow the governor to directly appoint judges of the Supreme Court and courts of appeal, subject to confirmation of the Legislature.
The constitutional amendment proposed in SJR2 would also provide for a yes-no retention election for the appointed judges when they seek a new term every eight years. In that respect, it is similar to the system now in place.
But the present system requires the governor to appoint the state’s top judges from a list of nominees submitted by a special nominating commission. The commission is eliminated under the proposal and instead the nominees would face confirmation by both the state House and Senate, though if there is no legislative vote on confirmation within 60 days, it is automatically confirmed.
The measure, sponsored in the House by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, was approved on a 74-14 vote, well above the two-thirds majority required to send the amendment to voters. On the House floor, there was no debate or discussion beyond Lundberg’s brief description of the measure.
The Senate approved the amendment 29-2 on Feb. 21.
The proposal is the second constitutional amendment to be proposed for the statewide ballot next year. Already approved was a proposal to insert into the constitution a provision intended to reverse a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling that says women have greater rights to an abortion in Tennessee than granted in the U.S. Constitution.
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.”
A bill proposed by East Tennessee Republicans calls for U.S. Senate candidates to be nominated by the Legislature’s partisan caucuses rather than in contested primary elections.
Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, proposes that the new system take effect on Nov. 30, 2014. That effectively “grandfathers in” incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election under the present system “because he’s doing such a good job,” said Niceley.
The new system would be valid under the U.S. Constitution, which courts have held grants wide latitude to states in deciding how political parties nominate candidates for the U.S. Senate, Niceley said.
He noted that Utah does not have contested primaries, instead having each party pick a nominee at a party caucus meeting.
Until 1913, senators were directly chosen by state legislators. In that year, the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution changed that system to provide for popular election. But the amendment is silent on how candidates are nominated for the election.
“We’ve tried it this way (contested primaries) for 100 years,” said Niceley. “It’s time to try something different.”
Under the bill (SB471), the House and Senate Republican Caucuses would jointly choose the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate at an open meeting while the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses would choose the Democratic nominee.
Such a system would avoid the huge fundraising and spending in primary elections and open the door for more qualified candidates with fewer financial resources to seek the nomination, Niceley said.
In last year’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary, the party was “embarrassed” by the nomination of Mark Clayton, Nicely said, and the new system would avoid such situations. Clayton, who was officially disavowed by the state Democratic Party for what party officials called “extremist views, got about 30 percent of the vote in losing to Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
Niceley said he has discussed the proposal with legislative leaders and believes the idea has considerable support. He said Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, will sponsor the bill in the House.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said he had discussed the proposal with Niceley and thought it “an interesting idea,” though he would defer to former Sen. Roy Herron, recently elected chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Herron said letting legislators pick Senate nominees would “turn back the clock a century or two.”
“I have great respect for Sen. Niceley, but Democrats believe in democracy and trust the people over the politicians,” Herron said. “I’m thankful to represent the Democratic party, not the dinosaur party.”
State Republican Chairman Chris Devaney, on the other hand, said this in an email after a conversation with Niceley Wednesday:
“You can always can count on Sen. Nicely to come up with innovative proposals conservatives can be proud of. This is another step in that direction and I certainly think it is an interesting idea.”
Jim Jefferies, spokesman for Alexander said the senator hasn’t seen the bill and has no comment at this time, though “I know he will appreciate Mr. Niceley’s compliment” about Alexander doing a “good job.”
“Sen. Corker hasn’t seen the bill and isn’t in the habit of weighing in on state legislation,” said Laura Herzog, spokeswoman for Corker.
John Jay Hooker filed a motion on Tuesday in Davidson County Circuit Court asking Gov. Bill Haslam to disqualify three former members of the state Supreme Court whom the governor appointed to a panel to hear Hooker’s case, reports The Tennessean. Hooker, a spirited octogenarian attorney, has long assailed how state appellate judges are chosen. He holds that they should be elected by voters, not appointed, and says the state’s Constitution backs him up. The governor recently appointed a special panel to hear Hooker’s case after all the current Tennessee Supreme Court justices recused themselves from taking up the issue.
The appointees are former Tennessee Supreme Court justices, which, according to Hooker, means that “their impartiality might be reasonably questioned.”
Hooker, who has run for governor twice, wrote that the governor’s panel appointments “embarrassed the judicial system.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to change the Tennessee Constitution to give the Legislature power to reject the governor’s appointments to the state Supreme Court cleared the House on Thursday.
The House voted 70-27 in favor of the resolution sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol. The Senate passed the measure on a 23-8 vote earlier this week.
Under the current Tennessee judicial selection method, a commission nominates appeals judges and Supreme Court justices, the governor appoints them and voters cast ballots either for or against keeping them on the bench. While the system has withstood legal challenges, critics say it conflicts with language in the state constitution that says Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”
Gov. Bill Haslam and the Republican speakers of the House and Senate earlier this year declared their support for a constitutional amendment to underscore the current system, but lawmakers preferred getting rid of the nominating panel and giving the Legislature the added power to deny the governor’s appointments within 60 days.
Haslam’s original proposal has died in the House, but the Republican governor has said he doesn’t oppose the confirmation model.
The resolution would have to be again approved by both chambers by a two-thirds majority within the next two-year General Assembly before it could be put before the voters in 2014.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to amend the Tennessee Constitution to change the way judges are selected has passed the Senate.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 23-8. It would impose a federal-style system of having the governor make nominations to the Tennessee Supreme Court and give lawmakers the power to confirm or reject.
A separate proposal to amend the state constitution to change the way appeals judges are selected passed the Senate 21-9 last week. The resolution would let legislators decide between three options for selecting judges: contested elections, a federal-style plan or a plan similar to the current one.
Under the current Tennessee judicial selection method, a commission nominates judges, the governor appoints them and voters cast ballots either for or against keeping them on the bench.
A conservative Washington-based lobby group, whose policy director once clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is jumping with both feet into one of the hottest political games going in the Tennessee General Assembly.
More from Andy Sher’s report: The group is trying to influence state lawmakers when it comes to how state Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges are selected.
State Ethics Commission records show the Judicial Crisis Network and its chief counsel and policy director, Carrie Severino, have hired four lobbyists to push a proposed state constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown.
The group recently retained Estie Harris, Anne Carr and Meagan Frazier of the Smith, Carr & Harris lobbying group, as well as Doug Fisher, of Chattanooga, who recently affiliated with the lobby firm.
Kelsey’s proposal would let voters do away with the state’s current merit-selection plan in 2014 and replace it with governor nominating appellate judges, who then are confirmed or rejected by the Senate.
…Legislative aides say the Judicial Crisis Network has been trying to put pressure on lawmakers to support the Kelsey plan through phone banking of Tennesseans and switching would-be supporters of it directly to lawmakers’ offices.
While a special Supreme Court upheld the merit-selection and retention vote plan, conservatives argue it is unconstitutional. The Tennessee Bar Association supports the current plan, saying direct elections could lead to appellate judges from the far right or far left, depending on what money flows in to the various campaigns.