Tennessee a step closer to AG elections

Jessica M. Karmasek Feb. 23, 2011, 1:29pm


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline) - Tennessee lawmakers are looking to let voters decide whether the state attorney general should be elected.

Currently, the attorney general is appointed by the state Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, members of the state's Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve SJR23. All six Republicans on the committee voted in favor of it; all three Democrats opposed the measure, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, said an attorney general elected by the people would be more answerable. Right now, the position is "twice removed" from the electorate, she explained to the newspaper -- chosen by justices who are appointed by the governor.

But opponents -- including the Tennessee Bar Association -- argue the current system eliminates any political pressure.

The measure now moves to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration, the News Sentinel reported.

A recent report from the Federalist Society criticized Tennessee's current selection procedure, arguing that it helps one political party keep hold of the office.

The last eight attorneys general, including current officeholder Robert Cooper, have been Democrats, even though the state has had three Republican governors and three Democratic governors in that time.

"There is a rich debate about the benefits and risks of insulating justices from political influences, and there are a number of different approaches toward selection," says the report, authored by Nashville, Tenn., attorney J. Ammon Smartt and Vanderbilt University law student Keith Randall.

"Currently, however, a survey of methods of selecting attorneys general indicates they are almost all subject to elections or political accountability through appointment by the political branches."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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