Haslam: Change Constitution, Keep System for Picking Judges

Governor Bill Haslam wants to rewrite part of the constitution on how judges are chosen, to spell out that the current system is okay. It’s held up to court challenges, but some lawmakers have argued it goes against the constitution, which says judges “shall be elected.”

The current system isn’t a typical popular vote.

From left to right: House Speaker Beth Harwell, Gov. Bill Haslam, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey

From left to right: House Speaker Beth Harwell, Gov. Bill Haslam, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey

Right now Tennessee judges get their jobs this way: A commission of mostly lawyers hands the governor a list of three names. The governor can pick one or ask for a new list. Once appointed, the judge faces a retention election every eight years – no challenger, just a yes-or-no vote where the sitting judge almost always stays on the bench.

Ramsey: “When the constitution plainly says that ‘judges shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state,’ most people will agree that’s not what we’re doing now.”

Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey is backing Haslam’s push to update the constitution, along with the House speaker.

Ramsey: “Now I know the Supreme Court has actually ruled twice that retention elections are elections. But I think most people feel like in 1870 when our constitution was adopted, that’s not what they had in mind.”

Ramsey says he plans to ‘sell’ fellow Republicans on the amendment, which lawmakers would have to approve twice before being decided on a ballot in 2014.

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