Keeping the bench warm

Gov. Bill Haslam today issued Executive Order No. 34, which establishes the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments. This is intended to allow the governor to fill vacancies on the state’s high courts while there is no Legislature-defined process in place. The Judicial Nominating Commission expired at the end of June.

How did we get to this point? It goes back to a decades-old question on how the appellate judiciary gets placed into office—a question which Tennessee voters will be allowed to at least partially answer in the 2014 general election.

The Tennessee Constitution states that judges shall be elected by qualified voters. For years, the “Tennessee Plan” maintained that the letter of that law was satisfied by judicial retention elections. To summarize these elections, when there is a vacancy on one of the higher courts, the first action is for the governor to appoint a successor; and then, at the first regular opportunity and every eight years thereafter, the voters get to decide whether to keep that judge in place.

But some feel that because these judges did not run for office in the first place, the process doesn’t quite follow the Constitution. There have also been squabbles over how the nominees for appointment get selected. Ergo, we have a stalled nominating process which Haslam set about to at least temporarily restart, so that vacancies may be filled.

A constitutional amendment has made it through the General Assembly votes it must get in order to be placed on the ballot; and that amendment will be on next year’s November ballot. We the people of Tennessee will decide whether or not to change our Constitution on the matter of high court judicial selection.

What does that amendment say and do? That will have to wait for another post.

In the meantime, here are the announcement and the executive order.

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he has issued Executive Order No. 34 establishing the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments, a necessary step to sustain the judicial branch of government and its operations.

The new 17-member commission will send a panel of three nominees to the governor to make an appointment when a vacancy occurs or is impending.

The Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion last week confirming the governor’s authority to continue making judicial appointments after the termination of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) on June 30, 2013. The JNC also had 17 members.

“I would like to keep the process virtually the same for selecting judges in Tennessee the same until Tennesseans have the opportunity to vote on the proposed constitutional amendment in 2014. This commission allows us to continue to select the highest quality people and ensure a stable and effective judiciary,” Haslam said.

The 11 members of the JNC whose terms did not expire with the termination of the JNC will continue to serve on the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments.

The executive order establishes that the governor will appoint the remaining six members of the new commission in consultation with the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.

Executive Order No. 34.signed.10.16.13

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  1. […] nominees for gubernatorial appointment, disbanded on June 30 of this year. Gov. Bill Haslam has created a very similar organization as an interim measure until voters decide on a constitutional amendment […]