I am very pleased to report that the Tennessee legislature has given overwhelming approval to a constitutional amendment that would replace Tennessee’s current method of selecting judges, the Missouri Plan, with a modified federal method.
Under the terms of the amendment — which must be approved by a two-thirds vote in the next legislative session and then by a majority of voters in the 2014 election — judges in Tennessee would be nominated by the governor, confirmed by the legislature, and then stand for retention elections every eight years. To avoid logjam or obstruction of judicial nominees, the amendment provides for confirmation by default if a nominee is not rejected by the legislature within 60 days.
This is a significant moment in Tennessee’s history. The state has been in some form of debate over methods of selection for nearly 40 years, with the debate growing especially intense in the last several years. As I have explained before, there are Tennesseans who feel very strongly that judges should be elected and others who are equally committed to the Missouri Plan. It has not helped matters that the state uses the Missouri Plan despite text in the Tennessee Constitution stating that “judges of the supreme court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”
So Governor Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell, and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey called for a constitutional amendment that would end the debate. After a great deal of discussion and negotiation, a modified federal method emerged as a compromise that garnered bipartisan support from more than two-thirds of the state’s legislators in both chambers. And unlike so many compromises that take on the worst elements of all sides of an issue, this compromise took on the best elements of the method set forth in the U.S. Constitution by our nation’s Founding Fathers. JCN is proud to have been a vocal supporter of that principled compromise.
The Federalist Society recently created a new website devoted to covering the selection of judges in all 50 states. You can find it at StateCourtsGuide.com.