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State Constitution Amendment 2

Tennessee voters have an opportunity on Nov. 4 to engrave in the state constitution the manner in which they select state Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals judges.

That manner, embodied on the ballot as Amendment 2, calls for judges to be appointed by the governor, confirmed or rejected by the General Assembly, and then retained or rejected by voters at the end of their eight-year terms. The legislative portion of the plan is the only difference from the current state plan.

It's a plan that allows input from the executive branch and the legislative branch and then puts the ultimate choice in the hands of the people. It's a sensible plan, and we endorse its passage.

The plan -- passed with large bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate -- has been so palatable across the state that it has been endorsed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, state Speaker of the House Ron Ramsey, former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, and disparate groups from various chambers of commerce to labor to the Tennessee Bar Association to the NAACP to the Tennessee Sheriffs' Association to current state Supreme Court justices.

The amendment will pass if it receives 50 percent (plus one vote) of the ballots cast in the gubernatorial race. In essence, voters who skip voting on the amendments are voting "no."

Although state courts have ruled favorably on the present method of selection -- known as the Tennessee plan -- for more than 40 years, opponents say it doesn't square with the state constitution that indicates Supreme Court justices should be elected "by the qualified voters."

But Bredesen told a meeting of Times Free Press editors and reporters that direct election would be an "absolute disaster."

"People are not focused on who the [29 various appellate] judges are," he said. "That's too much to expect." The races "would be wide open to money coming in" and to being bought by companies or individuals with deep pockets. The plan mandated by the amendment, he said, would "get rid of outliers."

Former state Supreme Court Justice Mickey Barker of Signal Mountain, at the same meeting, said the current Tennessee plan is "better than most" and "envied by a lot of states." But the new plan adds even more accountability, he said.

"We have a good judiciary in Tennessee," he said.

Approval of Amendment 2 would end challenges to the retention election system that began with the Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals shortly after the system was approved in 1971. The Supreme Court justices were added to the system in 1994.

The added check and balance by the legislature would create a system that more closely resembles the federal court system, where the U.S. Senate must approve presidential appointments.

We believe Amendment 2 is preferable to direct election because it ensures a more independent judiciary and gives the governor, the legislature and the people the ability to have their say in the process. We endorse its passage.

State Constitution Amendment

When you enter the voting booth in November and consider your vote on Amendment 4 to Tennessee's Constitution, think veterans and then vote "yes."

The language of the amendment doesn't even use the word veterans -- instead, it uses the Internal Revenue Service's Code Section 501(c)(19) designation -- but it's referring to nonprofit veterans service organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Simply put, it amends the Constitution to add veterans groups to the list of charitable organizations whose IRS-granted nonprofit status allows them to hold annual gambling-type fundraisers.

That's it.

The service organizations want to offer events like raffles, reverse raffles, cakewalks and cake wheels -- though not bingo, which is illegal in such instances -- to make a little money to help support the halls where they meet, student scholarships and other assistance for members. Proponents believe the state has enough safeguards in place to keep anything untoward from marring the fundraisers.

To pass, the amendment must receive at least half as many "yes" votes as the total number of votes in the governor's race.

However, supporters worry there is no committee raising money to push for it and that the convoluted wording will just confuse voters.

So, on Nov. 4, think about the veterans who have served the country from World War II through today and vote "yes."

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