By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law
The results from the November 4, 2104 election are still unofficial but preliminary results on Amendment 2 show 831,549 votes statewide in favor of the amendment and 533,522 against it. Amendment 2 amends Section 3 of Article VI of the Constitution of Tennessee to establish a modified federal plan for selecting our 29 appellate level judges. Under the Constitution as amended, the method of selecting appellate judges for a full term or to fill a vacancy for the Governor to appoint nominees. The Governor’s appellate court appointments must then be confirmed by the General Assembly, and thereafter be elected in a retention election by the qualified voters of the state. The most significant change effected by this amendment is to add the input of the state legislature to this appellate judicial selection process by including a confirmation requirement. This is somewhat similar to the current U.S. Senate confirmation required for federal judges in the federal system but not exactly the same, hence the description “modified federal plan.”
On November 6, 2014, Governor Haslam issued Executive Order No. 41 establishing the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments. The Governor’s Order states, “I am committed to continuing to fill judicial vacancies with men and women of the highest caliber, who by temperament, ability and integrity will freely, impartially and independently interpret the laws and administer justice.” The new Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments will be composed of the eleven members. The term lengths will be staggered from one year to four years. Three Council members will be appointed from each of the three grand divisions of the state and two members will be appointed at-large. At least 8 of the 11 members will be licensed attorneys in good standing. Diversity will be taken into account in appointments to the Council. Council members must be at least 30 years old; must be citizens of the state for at least two years; and must have been a resident of the grand division they are representing for at least one year prior to appointment. The Council will select three qualified attorneys and submit their nominations to the Governor. The Governor will choose one of the nominees or will request a new panel of three nominations from the Council. The Governor’s choice then goes to the General Assembly for confirmation.
Vacancies by any of the state’s 154 trial court judges or judges of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board will also be nominated by the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments and appointed by the Governor but under Article VI, Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution of Tennessee there is no legislative confirmation required. While appellate court judges are appointed as previously described, trial court judges are elected in partisan elections. To qualify to serve as a trial judge or as an appellate judge in Tennessee state courts, a judge must be authorized to practice law in this state; must be a district resident for at least one year; must be a state resident for five years; and must be at least 30 years old.
Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988. She is a sole practitioner who handles foreclosures, landlord-tenant, probate, collections and general civil matters. She represents Social Security disability claimants and represents creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. Her office number in Knoxville is (865)539-2100.