Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Proposed Constitutional amendment changing the way we select the Attorney General passes the Senate.

 By Rod Williams - SJR0001, the bill that proposes an amendment to the State Constitution to change the way the Attorney General is selected, passed the Senate by a vote of 25-7 on Monday and now goes to the House for consideration a second time.  It has already passed the house once but must now pass the house by a two-thirds majority.  If approved by the House then the proposed amendment would be on the ballot for consideration of the public at the next gubernatorial election.  

Currently in Tennessee the state's chief law enforcement official, the attorney general, is appointed to an eight-year term by the Supreme Court, behind closed doors in secret session. This is the way it has historically been done. However, for most or our history, the Supreme Court was elected or at least faced a yes-no retention election.  This at least resulted in some degree of making the process of choosing the AG democratic. Since 2014, the Supreme Court has been appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State legislature however, yet the process of selecting the attorney general has not changed. 

Tennessee is the only state that has the Supreme Court select the Attorney General. Attorney generals are elected in 43 states and appointed by the governor in five states and in Maine, the attorney general is chosen by the state legislature.

Under the proposed constitutional amendment, the Supreme Court would make the appointment to a six-year term but it would be made in open court with a recorded vote. Then, the appointment would be subject to confirmation or rejection by the state legislature within 60 days of the appointment.

I approve of this change. The job of Attorney General is not simply administrative or prosecuting crimes, but has a dimension of making policy. The AG determines law enforcement priorities and represents the State in lawsuits and offers legal opinions to the State legislature. In my view, the position should not be elective.  I do not want the chief lawyer for the state to have to pander to the popular sentiment of the moment. On the other hand, making the AG selected in secret by the Supreme Court makes the AG too independent of public sentiment and too obligated to the Supreme Court.  This proposal is a good compromise and strikes the right balance between an independent AG and yet an open and democratic process. 

The "no" votes came from Akbari, Campbell, Robinson, Yarbro, four of the Senate's six Democrats and from Republicans Lundberg, Stevens, and Walley,  For more on this issue follow this link

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