Like the summer in Tennessee, the state's political climate is also getting hotter. With the August 7 and November elections looming, it's not gonna cool down any time soon. This year, Tennesseans have the opportunity to make decisions about the state's highest court with ramifications that will echo for a decade or more. And the whole issue can seem quite confusing.
In part, confusing the issue is easy because two closely related issues face voters. The first vote is a question for the August elections: whether to retain the current slate of Supreme Court justices, who have served their first 8-year term and are eligible to be retained for yet another term. Those who support retention will argue that we should retain these justices because to fail to do so would invite the purchase of judges by corporate persons. After all, with the Koch brothers already dumping millions into Nashville to defeat public transportation as a favor to their cronies, why wouldn't they buy a few judges while they're here?
In reality, under current practice the governor appoints the justices who are confirmed by the legislature DESPITE the fact that the constitution declares that they should be elected. In November, Tennessee voters will be asked to amend the state constitution to define the appointment-confirmation process as the means of choosing judges.
A vote not to retain does not necessarily pose the DIRECT threat that the Koch brothers will be choosing our Supreme Court justices in Tennessee, by dumping money into an election as they have in the case of AMP. However, if they can spend to their hearts' content to defeat the vote to retain, and they have a governor and legislature in their (red) back pockets, then they have the INDIRECT power to pack our court. There seems little we can do about that, unfortunately. But the current court was appointed by a democratic governor.
While by national standards the court probably leans conservative, we can only expect a reactionary court from a "leader" like Bill Haslam and super-conservative puppet master, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. Republicans (and their pals in big business) want to see an even more conservative court at work in our state. It's not enough that conservative interests from across the country are fighting against retaining: Ron Ramsey is funneling money from his own political action committee (and where exactly did that money originate?) into the fight to defeat the vote to retain, as well. We are sure his friends will refill it when the fight is over.
Come November, we will face the question of whether to enshrine the appointment-confirmation system in the state's constitution. In the meantime, tell Ron Ramsey, the conservative establishment and Tea Party wonks, and deep-pocketed conservative donors across the country that our courts won't be up for direct sale until 2022. Hopefully by then we will have figured out a way to shut down the auction of all our public officials, not just judges.
Please go vote, and vote to retain.
graphic via keeptncourtsfair.com unitedliberty.org dnj.com