State Judges Should Not Be Elected

Frank Cagle's Feb. 9 column got it partially right. ["Judging Special Interests," Frank Talk]

Tennesseans would be in big trouble (like our counterparts in Alabama and West Virginia) if we went to partisan elections for our State Supreme Court and appellate judges.

However, if you like "justice for sale" that is exactly what you'll get if you buy into some of the rhetoric in his article. Here's what is happening in other states where partisan elections are allowed: the amount of money raised and spent in Supreme Court races has doubled from $83 million in 1990-1999 to over $206 million from 2000-2009.

Special-interest groups are the major players fueling this explosion of campaign money now flooding into state judicial races. Knowing the power of the courts, these groups hope the millions they donate and spend can bring pressure on judges to take positions on controversial issues. They want to shape social and economic policy through money, not the merits of the law. The public senses this problem: National polls for over a decade find three in four Americans believe campaign contributions can tilt the scales of justice by influencing courtroom decisions.

The plain truth is back in the old days (which Mr. Cagle talks about), Tennessee Supreme Court elections were not partisan: There was a single slate of candidates put up by one party. Today's ultra-competitive two-party system, along with these special and one-issue groups, would likely leave our Supreme Court and appellate court elections up to the highest bidder.

Mr. Cagle's column appears to be a solution in search of a problem. Our current system works. It is clearly constitutional. It is accountable (ask former Justice Penny White). To be clear, we are discussing only the way citizens vote on judges, not whether we vote at all. And it is also clear that our current method is far better than the serious risks Tennesseans would take if we significantly change or discard it.

Douglas E. Blaze, Knoxville

Dean, UT-Knoxville College of Law

Hulet Chaney, Knoxville

Board Member, Tennesseans for Fair and Impartial Courts (TFIC)

Timothy A. Priest, Knoxville

Board Member, Tennesseans for Fair and Impartial Courts (TFIC)

Pamela L. Reeves, Knoxville

Former President, Tennessee Bar Association