NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline) — One Tennessee newspaper says it thinks appointing the state’s attorney general, instead of proposed plans to be popularly elected or appointed by the governor, works just fine.
The Tennessean’s Dwight Lewis wrote in a staff editorial published Saturday that “having an attorney general who is independent of political pressure works well.”
The newspaper’s editorial page editor said the state’s system of selecting its attorney general “does not need to be redefined.”
He points to various state lawmakers who argue otherwise.
Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, sponsored a resolution in February that would let voters decide.
Beavers said an attorney general elected by the people would be more answerable. Right now, she argued, the position is twice removed from the electorate — chosen by justices who are appointed by the governor.
A Senate committee voted to place the amendment on the ballot for 2014, but Beavers recently told The Tennessean that she hit the brakes.
Two weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, filed a resolution giving the governor the power to appoint an attorney general.
And GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, are now suggesting the attorney general be stripped of his powers, handing them off to a “solicitor general” chosen by the state Legislature. The bill, Campfield told The Tennessean late last month, should be ready before the session ends.
“But none of those ideas should see the light of day,” Lewis wrote.
He argues that since the current system was established in 1870, “it has been free of scandal, fraud and abuse.”
“It also is a system where the attorney general does not have to think about the next election and instead can focus on giving objective, high-quality legal representation to all state officials,” he wrote.
The newspaper, in its op-ed, also wonders whether this change is “an attempt at political retaliation.”
The Tennessean points to Republican lawmakers’ anger over Attorney General Robert Cooper’s refusal last April to file suit against President Barack Obama’s federal health care reform.
The newspaper asks, what if the state had had a partisan elected attorney general then?
According to a February report by The Federalist Society, a conservative law and public policy study group, the state’s current procedure helps Democrats keep a stronghold on the office.
The last eight attorneys general, including current officeholder Cooper, have been Democrats, even though the state has had three Republican governors and three Democratic governors in that time.
Lewis and The Tennessean contend there are no credible reasons for changing the current system or “adding another layer of bureaucracy by having the Legislature set up a competing legal office.”
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the newspaper wrote, quoting the popular saying.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at email@example.com.