Critic of 'big-money' judicial retention election to hold fundraiser for judicial retention elections
Lew Connor, an outspoken critic of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey's efforts to unseat three Bredesen-appointed state Supremes in the upcoming retention elections, is holding a fundraiser for the trio, despite that he self-identifies as a Republican and has bemoaned the influx of big money into judicial elections.
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.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s office has created and shared with business leaders and various stakeholders a 31-slide presentation laying out why they should push out the three Democrats serving on the state’s highest court.
The presentation has been shown to several groups of people beginning early this year, including business leaders, victims rights advocates, and “anybody interested in the Supreme Court and how retention elections work,” said the lieutenant governor’s spokesman Adam Kleinheider. The slides lay out an argument for voting out the three Democratic Supreme Court Justices, which could then lead to replacing the court’s appointed attorney general, Bob Cooper, with someone more friendly to GOP and business issues. Find the slides here.
Led by Ramsey, Republicans have begun eyeing the Supreme Court as a target in this August’s retention elections. Ramsey’s office gave the documents to NewsChannel 5’s Phil Williams, said Kleinheider, who added that the document was created by staff on off hours. Although Williams asked for the presentation via an open-records request, the office disagreed that the presentation was a public record and denied the request but separately gave Williams the document anyway, he said.
“Don’t go out here and tell me that this is a nonpartisan group and that there’s never been politics involved," Ramsey told Williams in an interview. "There has always been politics involved.”
Eight West Tennessee attorneys, including a Shelby County chancellor and a Circuit Court judge, have thrown their names in the hat to succeed Holly Kirby on the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Check out all the applications here. Kirby late last year was chosen to succeed Justice Janice Holder come September.
With a handful of constitutional amendments on the November ballot, the governor will join his predecessor and former Gov. Phil Bredesen and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson in kicking off a "Vote Yes on 2" campaign next week.
The public outreach, paid for by "Yes on 2, LLC," urges voters to endorse the second constitutional amendment on the November ballot which would rewrite the state's guiding document to require the governor to select candidates to serve on the state's high courts, subject to legislative approval. Judges would then be subject to retention elections to renew their terms, much like they are now.
The press conference, scheduled for Tuesday at the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol Building, is one of the first public pushes on constitutional amendments on the ballot in this year's election.
A special Supreme Court ruled that the state's method of judge appointment and retention does not violate the state constitution.
A five-member Special Supreme Court convened solely to hear a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the way appellate judges are initially chosen and later stand for reelection to office ruled today that the current retention election system for choosing appellate judges does not violate the state’s Constitution.
The Court also held that the issue raised in the lawsuit regarding how appellate judges are initially selected could not be decided as part of this proceeding, because the statutory authority for that initial judicial selection process – the Judicial Nominating Commission – expired in June 2013. Since the Judicial Nominating Commission is no longer the law of this state, there is no longer a real, live issue for the Court to decide.