The Tennessean’s, Frank Daniels, III, wrote a recent opinion piece on The Tennessee Plan for judicial selection. Mr. Daniels urges Tennesseans to push for the right to popularly elect judges. Currently, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Court of Criminal Appeals are not elected by popular vote. I do not know if Mr. Daniels has ever stepped foot in a courtroom or his experience in the field. However, take it from someone that spends the majority of his days in our Tennessee courtrooms, Mr. Daniels’ call for a partisan election is foolish.
First, a little history is in order. In 1971, Tennessee enacted a plan for merit selection for all judges on the Tennessee Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Court of Criminal Appeals and vacancies at the trial court level. The goal was to remove political influence, money pressure from special interest groups in hopes of providing better administration of justice. Also, the judges were vetted by a selection committee. For more than forty years, the Tennessee Plan minimized partisan politics and focused on selecting the best judge possible. More than thirty-four states have this plan.
Mr. Daniels’ call is based on Article VI, Section 3 of Tennessee’s Constitution, which provides that the judges be elected by qualified voters of the state. The spirit of the Constitution is being followed by the retention election. Once a judge is appointed, the judge must be retained for future service. In fact, the voters have voted out a supreme court judge in the past. Here is an excerpt from Mr. Daniels’ column:
"We will hear a lot about how bad it will be for our judges to be part of a political process; how corrupting money in campaigns can be; how voters don’t take the time to know much about the candidates for judge; and how a merit selection process ensures that our judges will be impartial.
To me, that all sounds like manure."
That is exactly why the current system should remain in place. If we do away with the current plan, it opens up the door for abuse by people like billionaire brothers dumping cash into elections and even some special interest groups buying justice. John Grisham wrote about the possibility of this very issue. Further, there is one election in West Virginia that was bought and paid for by a coal mine operator.
The Tennessee Bar Association has created some information on the subject. You can read the pdf here.
Let’s keep money, politics, and special interest groups out of the courtroom and the appellate courts. Let’s keep the Tennessee Plan.