Overplayed Hand: Voters Didn't Want Ramsey and Legislature Deciding Who Should be on High Court


You can interpret the retention of the Supreme Court members by a large margin any number of ways, though a few things are abundantly clear.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey rolled the dice and lost. He was the face of the opposition to retaining Justices Gary Wade, Sharon Lee, and Cornelia Clark and he backed it up with $425,000 from his PAC. He would have taken the credit with Republican conservatives had he been successful, so now he has egg on his face.

I think there are a lot of people who contributed money to Ramsey’s PAC intending it to be used to elect Republicans or retain Republicans in the Legislature. Some of them are likely incensed that the money was used to attack the judges.

The mailers against the justices were a cheap shot. The argument specious. The Supreme Court hired the attorney general. The AG wouldn’t file a lawsuit against Obamacare, ergo the Supreme Court is in favor of Obamacare. It didn’t hang together.

But I think one of the main reasons the effort failed is the idea that the Legislature, through Ramsey, was attempting to take over the court system. The separation of powers is a bedrock of our constitutional system, at the federal level and in the states. Checks and balances are something we learn in grade school and are reminded of whenever a law passed by the Congress is struck down or upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

I think people resented and feared a Republican supermajority in the Legislature deciding who should or shouldn’t be an appeals court judge.

Do we want one branch of government to be at the beck and call of another? Do we want an independent judiciary or do we want lackeys doing the legislature’s bidding? Afraid to make the right ruling under the law and the constitution because it might not be politically popular with your masters?

I think that was the message of this election.

Which brings us to Amendment Two on the ballot in November. This amendment puts into the constitution that the Supreme Court, and appeals court justices, will be appointed by the governor and will be ratified by the state Legislature. Currently that would mean Gov. Bill Haslam would nominate members of the court and then a legislative committee, the Senate version stacked with people appointed by Ramsey, will decide their qualifications.

In other words, you don’t get to be an appellate court justice unless Ramsey approves.

Unless there is a resignation or death and an opening occurs on the appellate courts, this won’t happen in the near future. When current terms expire it will be Ramsey’s successor and Haslam’s successor who will make the decision. We have no idea who that might be.

But there have been almost 10 appellate court judges appointed since Haslam has been in office, including two members of the Supreme Court. It isn’t likely that all three of the retained Supreme Court justices will serve a full eight years without there being a retirement.

But forget the current cast of characters. You are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.

If the amendment passes, you are giving up your right to vote for Supreme Court Justices because the current appointment of judges will be enshrined in the constitution. With the added requirement that the legislators must ratify the choice. 

I’m sure the take-away that judges have from this election is that the political campaign to oust them was difficult and that if they face election it will be introducing politics into the process. I would submit that it would have been easier for the judges to run against “somebody” instead of nobody. And in this day and age, if retention elections continue, you can expect political spending by some group to oust you.

The only way for the state appellate court justices to be a free and independent branch of government is to be elected by the people, like legislators and the governor. The defeat of Amendment Two clears the way to reestablish the election of judges. A yes vote precludes that ever happening.

Save the court’s integrity and independence. Vote no on Amendment Two.

Print this article Back to Top