Senate OKs Federal-Style Judge Appointment, Requires Constitutional Change

Monday night the state Senate signed off on a proposal for selecting judges that would let them grill the nominees live, just like the U.S. Senate does in Washington. The change requires a constitutional amendment.

The federal style appointment system, where the governor would nominate and the legislature would confirm judges, passed the Senate on a vote of 23 to 8.

Voting no was Chattanooga Democrat Andy Berke.

“Trying to figure out what the political leanings are of particular judges – whatever that may be, the one thing that we will do if the General Assembly is given this power, is play politics.”

Berke argues that almost nobody likes the federal system with its history of the Senate holding up judicial nominees.

Collierville Republican Brian Kelsey is sponsoring the proposed constitutional amendment.

“You can’t take the politics out of judicial selection, but you can balance the politics through accountability and transparency.”

Kelsey argues that since legislators are elected by the voters, the new system would be more accountable. The public hearings, he says, help the transparency.

The state House also passed the federal-style selection process on the first of three readings.

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Kelsey’s resolution, SJR 710, has passed its required three readings in the Senate and the first of three in the House.

To finish the path to becoming a constitutional amendment, the same wording would have to be adopted in the next General Assembly (members to be elected this November) by a two-thirds majority. Then it would go on the ballot in November 2014, a gubernatorial election year.

Republican Senator Mae Beavers has been attempting to get a similar measure passed, installing a system where the governor appoints an attorney general and the legislature confirms the nominee.

Monday night it got 16 ayes against 15 nays, but still failed. In order to pass, the measure needed 17 of the 33 senators to vote for it.

Her proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 693, would have the governor appoint a candidate and the legislature confirm the nominee as the state’s highest lawyer.

But it was opposed on the Senate floor by four lawyers in a row, one of them a Republican, each of whom gave some version of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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