Judicial selection in Tennessee
|Judicial selection in Tennessee|
|Tennessee Supreme Court|
|Tennessee Court of Appeals|
|Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals|
|Tennessee Chancery Courts|
|Tennessee Criminal Court|
|Tennessee Circuit Court|
- 1 Appellate courts
- 2 Trial courts
- 3 Limited jurisdiction courts
- 4 History and reform efforts
- 5 Selection of federal judges
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 References
Selection of state court judges in Tennessee varies by court level. Appellate judges are selected using the Tennessee Plan, a system of assisted appointment and retention elections. Trial court judges participate in partisan elections, though individual counties have the discretion to instead opt for nonpartisan elections.
All elected and retained judges serve eight-year terms that begin on September 1. While most states' judges begin new terms in January, Tennessee's decision to hold general judicial elections in August renders an earlier start time for these terms.
- See also: Assisted appointment
The appellate courts (the Tennessee Supreme Court, Tennessee Court of Appeals and Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals) select their judges in an identical manner. Under what has become known as the Tennessee Plan, the governor makes the initial appointments, and the judges must face voters in retention elections to obtain new terms.
A successful 2014 state ballot measure titled Tennessee Judicial Selection, Amendment 2, modified the process of judicial selection for the state's appellate courts. According to the measure, supreme court and intermediate appellate court judges must be appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Tennessee State Legislature and face retention elections at the end of their terms. The main change was the increased influence of the state legislature in the process. For more information, see: Ballotpedia: Tennessee Judicial Selection, Amendment 2 (2014).
After serving for at least 30 days, the new appointee stands for retention in the next general election. If filling an interim vacancy, the judge serves out the remainder of the unexpired term before again running for retention to serve a full eight-year term.
Selection of the chief justice or judge
The chief justice of the supreme court is chosen by peer vote, serving in that capacity for four years. The chief judge of each court of appeals is also selected by peer vote, though he or she only serves as chief for a one-year term.
To serve on any of the appellate courts, a judge must be:
- authorized to practice law in the state;
- a district resident for at least one year (for court of appeals judges);
- a state resident for five years; and
- at least 30 years old.
- See also: Partisan election of judges
Judges of the circuit court, chancery court, criminal court and probate court are elected in partisan elections. Each county may opt for nonpartisan elections of various types of trial court judges if they so choose.
Trial court judges serve eight-year terms, after which they must run for re-election if they wish to continue serving.
Selection of the presiding judge
The presiding judge of each trial court is selected by peer vote, serving in that capacity for one year.
To serve on any of the trial courts, a judge must be:
- authorized to practice law in state;
- a district resident for at least 1 year;
- a state resident 5 years; and
- at least 30 years old.
In the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appointments a replacement from a list of three names submitted by the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission. The replacement serves out the remainder of the unexpired term, after which he or she must run in the next general election to continue serving.
Limited jurisdiction courts
- See also: Partisan election of judges
Tennessee's limited jurisdiction courts (the general sessions court, juvenile court and municipal court) select their judges exactly as the general jurisdiction trial courts do. Judges are chosen in partisan elections to serve for eight years and must run for re-election if they wish to serve additional terms.
History and reform efforts
A successful 2014 state ballot measure titled Tennessee Judicial Selection, Amendment 2, modified the process of judicial selection for the state's appellate courts. According to the measure, supreme court and intermediate appellate court judges must be appointed by the governor, confirmed by the legislature and face retention elections at the end of their terms. The main change is the increased influence of the state legislature in the process.
A campaign ad supporting the amendment said that it would create additional checks and balances to the selection process. The judicial selection reform organization Justice at Stake voiced their opposition to the amendment, saying that it would "inject partisan politics into the state’s judicial selection process.
For more information, see: Ballotpedia: Tennessee Judicial Selection, Amendment 2 (2014).
In 2012, three main proposals were introduced in the Tennessee Legislature regarding judicial selection.
- Adopting the federal system of selection:
- In April 2012, the state senate voted 23-8 to advance the measure introduced by Senator Kelsey. The house also approved a measure to adopt the federal system of selection. The major difference between this and the current system is that the legislature would have authority to confirm the governor's appointees before they can join the court.
- Providing for popular election of appellate justices:
- Also in April 2012, a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for the popular election of appellate justices failed in committee. Supporters of the amendment expressed an interest in continuing the fight.
- Including current system as constitutional amendment:
- Governor Bill Haslam favored using the same method of selection but creating a constitutional amendment that supported the method. This proposal was also rejected by the legislature, though it had the backing of Republican leaders in both chambers.
Members of the Tennessee Legislature attempted to bring back popular elections for all judges. To these legislators, the explanation was simple: the constitutional provision calling for qualified voters to elect judges mandates popular elections.
However, the opposing viewpoint maintained that retention elections are elections, as they allow voters to choose judges. (Opponents countered that since the Tennessee Plan was adopted, only one judge was not retained.) Supporters of so-called "merit selection" were prepared to go one step further, amending the constitution to better reflect the current method of selection in the state.
In October 2011, Republican State Senator Brian Kelsey proposed SJR 0475. The constitutional amendment would change the way judges are selected in the state, switching from the Tennessee Plan's reliance on the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission to select nominees, to allowing the governor control over appointment. After selection, the Tennessee State Senate would be responsible for confirming the appointee. The amendment was introduced prior to the 2012 legislative session, which will begin on January 10, 2012.
Twenty years after the repeal, the Tennessee Plan was brought back for the selection of supreme court justices. At this time, a judicial performance evaluation program was created for judges facing retention as well.
The plan created the current system of judicial selection in the state, albeit with deviations between then and now. Under this method, the governor appoints a justice or judge to fill a vacancy on one of the appellate courts. The executive chooses from three candidates, who are screened and selected by the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission. The justice or judge stands for retention in the next general election (at least 30 days after appointment) and then at the end of subsequent terms.
1853: New constitution
Tennessee adopted a new state constitution in 1853. Included in that document is the line, "The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state." Many states in the nation adopted popular election of judges at this time in history. In this constitution, all judges also switched to serving eight-year terms.
Though the state was required to ratify a new constitution to gain readmittance to the Union following the Civil War, the provision regarding the popular election of judges remained the same.
Tenure of supreme court justices was changed from "good behavior" to twelve-year terms. All other judges' terms were reduced to eight years.
All judges were elected by the general assembly, serving for the duration of their "good behavior."
Selection of federal judges
United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.
The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.
|Step||Candidacy Proceeds||Candidacy Halts|
|1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President||President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee||President declines nomination|
|2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate||Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation||Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee|
|3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation||Candidate becomes federal judge||Candidate does not receive judgeship|
- News: Judicial selection a major topic in Tennessee, April 30, 2012
- News: Lt. Governor Ramsey appoints Bert McCarter to judicial nominating commission, July 14, 2011
- Tennessee judicial elections
- Campaign finance requirements for Tennessee judicial elections
- Tennessee Plan
- Commission-selection, political appointment method
- Retention elections
- Courts in Tennessee
- Official website of the Tennessee State Courts
- Tennessee Secretary of State, "Elections"
- Chattanoogan, "Rep. Watson: Capitol Hill Review Final Wrap-Up, Part 6," August 13, 2009
- Debate Over The Tennessee Plan
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Tennessee," archived September 11, 2014
- Information emailed to Judgepedia by the Director of Communications for the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts on March 24 and April 3, 2014.
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Tennessee; Judicial Nominating Commissions," archived September 11, 2014
- Justia - Tennessee Code, "16-15-202. Election Term," accessed November 20, 2014
- Tennessee State Courts, "Understanding Your Court System: A Guide to the Judicial Branch," accessed September 11, 2014
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Tennessee; Limited Jurisdiction Courts," archived September 11, 2014
- Justice at Stake, "Proposed Amendment to Tennessee Constitution Would Politicize Judicial Selection," March 11, 2013
- Tennessee Report, "Judicial-Selection Measure Pass on First Run Through TN Senate," April 23, 2012
- WKRNTV, "Measure requiring popular election of judges fails," April 17, 2012
- The Republic, "House approves giving lawmakers confirmation power over governor's Supreme Court appointments," April 26, 2012
- Tennessee Report, "Lawmaker Questions Appropriateness of Justices Lobbying Legislators," February 15, 2011
- The Tennessean, "State's plan for electing judges is working despite 'shop-worn' attacks," July 31, 2011
- Knox News, "'Slobberknocker' of debate is expected," August 19, 2011
- Huffington Post, "In Tennessee, a Choice: Should Judges Be Elected or Appointed?," August 8, 2011
- Tennessee Report, "Kelsey Amendment Models TN Judicial Selection After Federal System," October 18, 2011
- Missouri News Horizon, "House Should Play Role in Kelsey Judicial Confirmation Reform Proposal: Harwell," October 20, 2011
- American Judicature Society, "History of Reform Efforts: Tennessee," archived September 11, 2014
- US Courts, "FAQ: Federal Judges," accessed March 26, 2015