Ramsey: Nothing tainted about push to oust Democratic high court justices

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he doesn’t understand Gov. Bill Haslam’s complaint that pushing voters to remove three Supreme Court justices would confuse voters when poised with a decision over how the state should pick judges.

“I cannot connect the dots on that one,” Ramsey told reporters after a Building Commission meeting at Legislative Plaza Thursday. Urging people to vote to remove Democratic judges “legitimizes the retention election process,” he said, “and in my opinion, in the end, will actually help the amendment pass, not hurt the amendment.”

Ramsey’s office produced a 31-slide document — during off hours on personal computers, he said — painting three justices appointed by Democrats and the Democratic appointed attorney general as soft on crime and bad for businesses. His office has distributed the presentation to business leaders, victims rights advocates and Republican circles in light of judicial retention elections in August.

Haslam said Wednesday the push could “muddy the waters” on constitutionalizing much of the state’s existing process for picking judges which he argues keeps politics out of the judicial system. Voters will weigh in on that decision in the November election.

“For those that argue that partisan elections taint the judiciary, then they’ll have to argue the day before yesterday there were hundreds of elections that were tainted across this state. That’s not true,” said Ramsey, referring to the contested lower court judicial elections Tuesday.

“I mean, these are partisan elections. They’ve always been partisan elections. Either you have your head in the sand or you’re being hypocritical if you say partisanship has never been in judges’ elections,” he said.

Asked if he thought he was being fair to those judges by rehashing old cases, Ramsey said it's his job to enhance arguments for the side he’s on, not defend the side he’s pushing against. He said he also found fault with Republican appointees on the Supreme Court, but those two judges are retiring this summer.

“If they were here, we wouldn’t have them retained, either. But they’re not any more,” he said. “They’re not on the ballot this time.”

The five-member Supreme Court now consists of three Democrats and two Republicans. After the August election, the court is expected to appoint the state's attorney general. A shift in the makeup of the body could lead to justices appointing a Republican attorney general.

“Everything we do here is an election issue," said Ramsey.