Rep. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) renewed today his commitment to introduce legislation in 2007 that will require the attorney general of Tennessee to be elected by the people. Currently, Tennessee is the only state in the nation whose Supreme Court appoints the attorney general, as occurred Monday when the court selected Robert E. Cooper Jr., Gov. Phil Bredesen’s legal counsel, to fill the role. Mr. Cooper was sworn in to the role as Attorney General Thursday.
“Appointed officials simply do not have the same level of accountability to the people as elected officials. The attorney general is supposed to represent the interests of the entire state, so all the people should have a say in who is representing them,” Rep. Kelsey said.
“The Attorney General is actually twice removed from being accountable to the people,” said Rep. Kelsey.
In Tennessee the Attorney General is appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court, whose members are in turn appointed by the governor from a list of three people selected by a little-known committee of 14 lawyers and three non-lawyers.
“Even lawyers can’t tell you who’s on the judicial selection committee,” stated Rep. Kelsey, who is a lawyer.
The attorney general is the chief legal officer of the state. Among other duties, he or she prosecutes criminal cases in the appellate courts and acts as the state’s lawyer in civil court proceedings. The attorney general also provides legal advice to the Tennessee General Assembly and other state departments and agencies.
Forty-three states currently elect the attorney general. For Tennessee to do the same, the state constitution would have to be amended. Rep. Kelsey and Sen. Rosalind Kurita (D-Clarksville) introduced a resolution last year to place the measure on the ballot. Both resolutions failed to garner the necessary two-thirds vote in each chamber. Rep. Kelsey plans to introduce a resolution during the next General Assembly that will begin the process of putting the measure on the ballot again.
“The people need a voice in the Attorney General’s office,” stated Rep. Kelsey.
Rep. Kelsey represents the 83rd House District which includes portions of East Memphis and Germantown in Shelby County. He is a member of the House Judiciary Committee as well as the House Committee on Children and Family Affairs. Rep. Kelsey resides in Germantown and practices law in Memphis.