Aug 05 2014
Tennessee courts are specifically tasked with deciding “on the constitutionality of legislation passed by the General Assembly” and to “consider the legality of administrative policies and regulations.” Why then, are so many politically motivated groups spending so much campaign cash prior to the upcoming Tennessee Supreme Court retention elections?
The answer seems to be related to the Supreme Court justices appointing an attorney general who did not join other attorney generals in a lawsuit opposing the Affordable Care Act. For the record, once the Tennessee Supreme Court appoints an Attorney General, the Attorney General is completely independent and does not answer to the Court.
Regardless of the underlying motivations, the amount of money spent in an attempt to influence the retention elections is emblematic of recent trends of increasingly political and expensive judicial elections. According to Justice at Stake, the Tennessee Supreme Court retention election has set a record by exceeding $500,000 in television advertisement spending. Tennessee Forum, a group that opposes retaining the three justices up for election, has contributed $245,000. Likewise, Keep Tennessee Courts Fair, a group that supports retaining the three justices, has given a considerable contribution amounting to $210,000.
Industrialists Charles and David Koch have even thrown their hats in the ring by having their organization, Americans for Prosperity, contribute significant amounts to the campaign to unseat the three justices.
Judges should be chosen (and retained) based on their qualifications including legal experience, judicial temperament, and quality of their decisions. Choosing judges (or choosing whether to retain judges) through a political process for a nonpartisan job is nonsensical.
Pennsylvania needs to start learning from the examples of states like Tennessee. We need to protect our courts from special interests and politicians that see them as just another tool in the political arsenal. It’s time for Harrisburg to stand up to entrenched special interests and have a serious discussion about commonsense reforms like merit selection.