NASHVILLE - Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on Tuesday was forced to rescue a bill requiring competitive elections for state appellate judges and Supreme Court justices by casting a tie-breaking vote in committee.
The GOP-run Senate Judiciary Committee had deadlocked 4-4 on the bill when Ramsey rushed into the meeting to break the tie and advance the bill, favored by many Republicans.
Currently, appellate and Supreme Court judges are initially appointed. They later come before voters on what is called a "retention" ballot in which voters make a yes or no decision on whether to keep the judge.
Ramsey said in a news release he took the unusual move of breaking the tie - the last time he did so was in 2009 - because he believes the Tennessee Constitution is unambiguous in its proscription that all judges "shall be elected."
"It is clear that we need judicial reform in Tennessee," Ramsey said. "I don't necessarily think that electing judges is best for the state in the long term but the constitution is the constitution and the constitution clearly states that judges shall be elected."
Bill opponents say the current method, known as the Tennessee Plan, meets constitutional muster. Requiring competitive elections would result in multi-million dollar political campaigns largely funded by special interests interested in court rulings, they argue.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam also supports the current method of electing appellate judges, saying he doesn't think they should go through the same expensive, bruising process he did.
Before Ramsey stepped in, the bill was in danger of failing. Four Republicans, including Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, voted yes. Three Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, voted no. Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, abstained.
Read more in tomorrow's Times Free Press.