Legislation sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) that would allow Tennessee’s governor to appoint the state attorney general was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Tennessee is the only state in the nation that allows the State Supreme Court to select the attorney general. The other states either call for popular election or the attorney general is selected by either the governor or the state legislature.
“Tennessee is the only state in the nation in which the people have neither a direct nor indirect voice in the selection of their attorney general,” said Senator Beavers. “When Tennessee’s Constitution was written calling for selection by the Supreme Court Justices, the court was popularly elected, meaning there was at least a minimal measure of accountability to the people. Under the Tennessee plan, the Supreme Court is no longer popularly elected, leaving Tennesseans with absolutely no accountability for this important office.
“Not only does this system lack accountability to the people, such a role indicates an obvious conflict of interest between the Supreme Court and the attorney general as he or she is responsible for cases at the appellate court level in Tennessee. The attorney general is required to present and argue cases before the very body, the state Supreme Court, which appointed that individual to office.”
Senate Joint Resolution 693 sponsored by Senator Beavers would amend the state’s Constitution to allow the governor to appoint the attorney general for a four-year term subject to legislative confirmation. If a vacancy arises, the resolution calls for the state’s solicitor general to serve until an appointment is made by the governor. The legislation also requires the attorney general be at least 30 years old, a licensed attorney in Tennessee, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the state for at least seven years preceding the appointment.
The resolution requires a simple majority by the 107th General Assembly currently in session and must receive two-thirds approval by the 108th, which will take office in 2013. If approved, the question would then go to voters in a statewide referendum in November 2014.
“The current system of selecting our state’s attorney general defies the checks and balances that are needed for our justice system,” said Senator Beavers. “I am sure that this is a key reason that 96 percent of the rest of this nation have a better system for election or appointment.”
The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee before moving to the floor of the Senate for final consideration.