Jan 31 2011
The perennial fight over selection of appellate judges in Tennessee is back on, according to an opinion piece published in The Tennessean on 1/30. In “Judge-selection system in state instills trust,” Dwight Lewis explains how the state’s Merit Selection system works, and notes support for the plan from former Tennessee Supreme Court justice, and newly inaugurated governor Bill Haslam. Haslam cites his own experiences on the campaign trail as a reason for supporting the current system, saying “[a]s somebody who has spent two years going across the state campaigning, I’m just not sure we want our Supreme Court judges to do that.”
A 1/27 piece by Nashville Scene’s Jeff Woods states the problems with judicial elections even more bluntly. “Conservatives want judges to sing for their supper and submit to contested elections — but will that pimp out the bench?” After a sharp critique of both sides of the argument, Woods concludes that the political reality doesn’t bode well for a change in Tennessee. At least not yet.
For this session anyway, the most likely outcome probably is none at all. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce already is talking about the need to send the whole argument to a summer study committee — a favorite water-treading tactic. Lawmakers will have to make a decision by 2012, when the current law expires. Who knows — a few Christmases from now, you might be able to buy someone a judge.
Woods’ turn of phrase eloquently captures the issues facing elected appellate judges here in Pennsylvania. Our appellate judges and justices are, in essence, required to “sing for their supper” by campaigning for votes, wooing political parties and collecting campaign donations. Any time they rule on a case involving a political ally or campaign donor, they’re left open to accusations that they’ve decided to “pimp out the bench.”
That’s why we’re asking our state legislators, and the people of Pennsylvania, to support the switch to Merit Selection of appellate judges, and why we’re rooting for Tennessee to leave its Merit Selection plan intact. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this ongoing debate.Tags: campaign contributions, Merit Selection, Opinion, Tennessee, Tennessee Plan