New plan for selecting top judges advances

On May 14, 2009, in News 2009, by Mark Norris

By Tom Humphrey,
May 14, 2009

NASHVILLE – Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris won committee approval Wednesday of a plan for selecting top state judges and also proposed that a constitutional convention be held to resolve the matter.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, on a 5-3 vote, approved SB2114 after amending the measure to eliminate a provision that would have required state Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee to face a contested election next year.

She would, instead, be facing a retention election, as would occur under the present system, with voters deciding whether to keep her in office or replace her.

In the debate, Norris said he had prepared legislation calling for a state constitutional convention on how to select judges but had decided against pushing for a vote on the matter Wednesday. He said the proposal will be presented later.

As drafted, the Norris proposal calls for delegates to a constitutional convention to be elected in August 2012. The delegates would meet the following November, come up with a proposal and submit it to voters in a referendum.

The convention proposal appeared to help Norris win passage of the bill in committee. Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, said at one point that he intended to vote against the bill, but the idea of coupling it with a convention caused him to reconsider.

Bunch was one of five Republicans to vote for the bill. Two Democrats and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, voted against it.

Left sitting in the committee were other proposals, including one offered by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, who had attempted last week to forge a compromise.

A state attorney general’s opinion says that a proposed new specialty license plate for a church would violate both the federal and state constitutions.

Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, had requested the opinion after voicing doubts about HB2196, which calls for a specialty plate for the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Karen Camper and Sen. Ophelia Ford, both Memphis Democrats.

Burchett said that passage of the bill could lead to losing lawsuits, costing taxpayer money. But the senator said he is also against the bill on principle.

“I don’t think the state needs to be in the fundraising business for churches,” he said. “Us Christians need to fund churches ourselves.”

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