Senate Holds Test Vote on Method of Picking Judges

On April 13, 2012, in News 2012, by Mark Norris

by Joe White,
April 13, 2012

On Thursday, the state Senate took a test vote to see who likes what method of appointing judges.  A proposal much like the Tennessee’s current system got one vote more than a measure that would put a federal-type, appoint-and-confirm system in place.
 Senator Mark Norris wants a referendum on a system that looks a lot like what’s in place now – the Governor appoints judges to the bench, voters decide if they stay there.
 But a House committee changed his proposal it into something like the appointment system for federal judges–the Governor nominates a judge and the Legislature would vote to confirm him or her.
 The House changes look similar to a version championed by Norris’s Republican colleague Senator Brian Kelsey.
 Suddenly it was possible to get a test vote – and, as Norris told colleagues – send the House a message. 

“And rather than simply exercising my will, and telling them that as they think our dog won’t hunt, I think their dog won’t hunt, I leave it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, to vote your conscience as to which version you think has sufficient legs to finish the race.”

The Senate decided, 16 to 15, they like Norris’ original idea better than the federal-style system.
 And in all that, Brian Kelsey’s competing proposal was never mentioned by name.

Democratic Senator Andy Berke told the Senate he doesn’t really like either of the two proposed constitutional amendments. 

“I do feel a little bit like the person who is very sick, receiving some horrible medicine, and then they say, ‘Do you want cherry, or grape?’”

But in the long run, he said, he would have to support Norris’ idea over a system where the legislature is asked to confirm judges. 

“We are not set up as a body, to confirm or concur in appointments….Quite frankly, the U.S. Senate, which theoretically has the staff and the ability to do this, they can’t seem to do it either.”

Norris’ measure could end up looking a lot like the current system, with gubernatorial appointments and the judges standing later in a non-contested retention election.
Kelsey’s bill is an attempt to set a federal type of judge appointment, with the governor appointing and each house of the General Assembly having the ability to reject the nominee.
To be eligible to go on the next referendum ballot (November 2014) each must pass both houses by simple majority this year, then pass in the next General Assembly by two-thirds.
Although the resolutions have been “read” in the Senate, almost a ceremonial step, no vote has been taken. The earliest that can happen is Monday, April 16.

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