Knoxville Judge Dale Workman who actually runs for office sent me a an unsolicited note on the supreme court running for office. I have reproduced it below unedited with his permission.
The Tennessee Plan is not, has not been nor as constituted will not be a merit selection system for judges. As compared to the “modified Missouri Plan” which was created in the ‘70s for the intermediate appellate courts it is a purely political and special interest power control plan.
The Tennessee Plan was enacted for two reasons: 1. To limit or eliminate the appointment of Republican judges or any judge not favored by the special interest of the Democratic party; 2. To eliminate to possibility that certain members of the Supreme Court might suffer political retribution for the removal of all but one of the Democratic members of the Supreme Court by the special interest at a Democratic executive committee in the late ‘80s.
As Gov. Bredesen so accurately proved in his lawsuit against the selection committee of the Tennessee Plan special interest attempted to force him to select their candidate not aid in insuring any appointee was “merited”.
The greatest flaw is the limiting of a Governor of either party recruiting the best lawyers to serve on our courts. No successful lawyer will apply and risk not being on the list of three knowing whim or political influence, by either Democratic, Republican, independent or special interest, controls the process. However if a governor went to the best lawyers you can think of in any area of the state and said “I want you to give up your practice and give back to the state by serving on our Supreme Court” how many would turn a governor down?
The Supreme Court was elected by the people directly from its creation in the Constitution of 1835 until 1990’s. What happened to suddenly make the public unable to select judges when they select Presidents, Senators, Mayors and legislative body members with special interest spending money. Is a judge who special interest gets appointed to a judgeship not in the same situation? Do the members of our Supreme Court ever refused to hear a case because a lawyer or group of lawyers or special friend influenced the body to appoint them?
Most of you have heard previously that I oppose the “Tennessee Plan”. After one of those comments I got a phone call from a highly placed person in the court system. The comment was “Dale, why do you oppose this when your people are in charge then they can control the appointment?” I told that person that’s exactly what is wrong. This is not merit selection and it is wrong for special interest to control be it liberal, conservative, moderate, Democratic , Republican or Tea Party. Do not misrepresent to the public.
Now all of proceeding is different from whether good grounds exist to not have judges run statewide. The Tennessee plan is special interest in control behind the scenes not that can be seen by funding a candidate.
If you think the public should not directly elect judges what should be changed? First the Tennessee Constitution says that judges are to be elected from districts they serve. So members of the appellate courts or supreme could be elected from grand divisions.
If no election is desired go back to a system that the Governor can appoint anyone he chooses, without a group limiting his or her choices. This enables a Governor of either party to go recruit the very best.
Then after they are appointed let a group review their work and recommend to retention or give the Governor an option not to reappoint. Then if the Governor reappoints go to the yes/no retention vote.
The trial judges should be left as they are popular election with no group limiting a Governor appointing a vacancy. How can the public be smart enough to elect a City, General Sessions or Circuit judge but to ignorant to select a Supreme Court judge?