Bench Memos

Making Progress in Tennessee

Tennessee is closer than ever to adopting a method of judicial selection that every Tennessean could be proud of. 

Yesterday afternoon, the Tennessee Senate approved by voice vote an amendment (SJR 710) that would bring Tennessee’s judicial-selection method more in line with the U.S. Constitution, by allowing the governor to appoint judges with confirmation by the legislature. The amendment seeks to obviate the criticism most frequently leveled against the federal method — that it facilitates obstruction — by establishing that “confirmation by default occurs if the Legislature fails to reject an appointee within sixty calendar days of either the date of appointment.”

The measure has the support of Governor Haslam and House Speaker Harwell, who requested some of the particular language. Before final passage, it must be read twice more in the Senate and approved by the House. In the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Norris have both pledged to pass SJR 710 as part of a deal with Leader Norris. The House is expected to take action on and conform a companion to SJR 710 in committee today, with further action on the floor soon thereafter.  

As I have been reporting, state officials in Tennessee have been engaged in a very intense debate over the direction the state should take when it comes to picking judges. Some want elections, some want the Missouri Plan, and some want the federal method. A broad coalition of organizations have weighed in to support a modified federal method, believing that it is the consensus option and the only method that can garner the level of support necessary to amend the state constitution.  

We are happy to be part of that coalition, which includes traditional-values advocates like the Family Action Council of Tennessee and the Tennessee Eagle Forum, free-market advocates Americans for Prosperity–Tennessee, and the non-partisan business coalition Tennesseans for Economic Growth. I expect others from the business community and the conservative community to join in support of SJR 710 as it advances.  

We will know a lot more in the next few days. If all comes to fruition as we hope, conservatives across the country should thank Governor Haslam and Tennessee’s legislative leaders for taking a principled position on the important issue of judicial selection. 

Carrie Severino — Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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