Good enough for Jefferson, good enough for me
Through the years, Tennessee’s judicial selection process added a nominating panel, predominantly composed of lawyers and insiders. This panel would nominate three candidates to send to the governor, who then selected one of the three to serve on the bench. All this despite our Constitution stating that “judges should be elected by the qualified voters.”
While the Beacon Center of Tennessee and others have taken this matter to court in the past, judges have consistently upheld this so-called Tennessee Plan as constitutional, ignoring the plain language of the Constitution.
So we can either defer to those incorrect rulings, or we can improve the system by taking it to the voters themselves with a constitutional amendment. Amendment 2, which will be on the ballot in November, rightly puts the issue in the hands of voters.
With Amendment 2, Tennessee voters can adopt a method almost identical to that crafted by our founders for selecting federal judges. Like the federal model, the governor we elect will nominate the most qualified people as judges, and then our elected legislature will vote to confirm or reject their appointment. Unlike the federal system, there will be no lifetime tenure for judges under Amendment 2.
This approach strikes a great balance between making sure we have judicial independence to uphold the rule of law, while holding judges accountable to the people and our elected representatives.
The great Thomas Jefferson, who helped craft the federal system for selecting judges, had but one criticism of it: lifetime tenure. “If a member of the Executive or Legislature does wrong, the day is never far distant when the people will remove him. They will see then and amend the error in our Constitution which makes any branch independent of the nation,” Jefferson said of lifetime appointments for judges.
In a tip of the hat to Jefferson, Amendment 2 will not only preserve the balance between judicial independence and accountability, it will also offer voters a chance to remove judges at the polls. If voters dislike a judge’s rulings, they can vote against their governor, senator and representative who put the judge there. And ultimately, and most importantly, Amendment 2 protects the right of Tennesseans to keep or fire the judges at the end of their terms at the ballot box.
I’ll be voting “Yes on 2” in November because it is the best approach to choosing competent, fair and impartial judges, while holding them accountable to the people of our state.
If it was good enough for Jefferson, it’s good enough for me.
This op-ed appeared in The Tennessean on Sept. 2, 2014. I am reposting this from the Beacon Center website. Vote Yes on Amendment 2. Rod