Suit Challenges Method For Selecting State Supreme Court Justices

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research and its President, Drew Johnson, have filed suit in federal district court in Nashville alleging that Tennessee’s method of selecting appellate court judges is unconstitutional.

If the suit is successful, Tennessee’s voters may regain their constitutional right to popularly elect State Supreme Court Justices.

Tennessee’s current judicial appointment scheme, known as the “Tennessee Plan for Judicial Selection and Evaluation,” allegedly violates several provisions of the State Constitution, including Art. VI, Sec. 3, which states that “the judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”

Under the Tennessee Plan, politically appointed members of the Judicial Selection Commission present the governor with a slate of candidates for vacant judicial seats. After the governor appoints a judge from the slate, the judge is re-selected every eight years through a retention election system that offers Tennessee voters no other candidates from which to choose, it was stated.

The suit, brought on behalf of the nonprofit, free market think tank and its president by Nashville attorney Bob DeLaney, seeks to obtain an order declaring that the popular election of members of the Supreme Court of Tennessee and the intermediate appellate courts, is required by the Tennessee Constitution.

“Tennessee’s Supreme Court Justices are sworn to uphold the Constitution and decide cases based on their understanding of the document,” said Mr. Johnson. “Ironically, if the Tennessee Plan is held unconstitutional, the justices of this state’s Supreme Court are being selected in violation of the very document they are sworn to uphold.”

Mr. Johnson said he chose to file the case in federal court because he said the Tennessee Plan, if found to violate voting rights granted under the State Constitution, would also violate the due process and equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the plaintiffs claim.

The suit also requests a temporary restraining order to prevent the Judicial Selection Commission from nominating candidates until the case goes to court.

The Judicial Selection Commission is scheduled to meet Friday to nominate a slate of candidates to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of former Chief Justice A.A. Birch.

To view the complaint, visit: http://www.tennesseepolicy.org/files/pdf/Johnson%20Complaint.pdf



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