Legislature needs to say ‘No’ to super court
Published 2:54 pm Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Legislation creating a so-called super court to hear constitutional challenges would allow Gov. Bill Lee to appoint the three-judge panel and then the attorney general to shift every pending case to the new court, according to an amendment.
The key piece of legislation, which is moving through the Tennessee Legislature could change the landscape of the Tennessee judiciary in response to legal decisions that have confounded Republicans in the last few years. Two other judicial bills were scrapped, likely because they were rendered moot.
The measure would enable Gov. Lee to pick three chancellors from the state’s three grand divisions using a candidate list put together by the Trial Court Vacancy Commission. That body is appointed by the speakers of the House and Senate.
The new judges would start serving Oct. 1 and then face statewide election for an eight-year term in 2022.
The statewide chancery court would have “exclusive original jurisdiction” over any civil case involving constitutional challenges, state statutes, including those that apportion or redistrict state legislative or congressional districts, executive orders, administrative rules or regulations and claims for declaratory judgment or injunctive relief.
The court would be able to hear those cases brought against a state department, agency or state official when the attorney general requests the case be transferred to the court’s jurisdiction.
Such a court opposes the integrity and independence of the judicial system in Tennessee. Our chancery courts have been in existence for well over 150 years. The purpose, supposedly of the new court is to have a statewide court to interpret whether or not something is constitutional. We already have chancery courts throughout the state representing each of the jurisdictions. First off, the Governor does not need his own court. There’s no need to have a new chancery court and it would be very expensive.
An argument for the new court is that it would put judges in position to hear cases against the state that more accurately reflect the voters of the state if they’re elected statewide. It’s a rushed “political solution” to an issue Republicans insist is there.
Allowing a court comprised of judges who are hand-picked at first by the governor to rule on legal cases challenging the governor’s own executive orders and any bills he signs into law is a recipe for disaster. Politicians shouldn’t get to pick the players, the field and the referees.
A growing number of lawyers, business owners, and professionals have come out against the bill, believing that the state’s courts should be focused on justice, not politics. And, they are right to challenge the measure.
This attempt to set up a new court threatens Tennesseans’ right to a fair and impartial judiciary. And it targets critical issues affecting the rights of all Tennesseans, such as constitutional challenges and redistricting.
There is no reason to rush passage of this legislation at the last minute without proper vetting and input. The bedrock of our democracy — and of our Tennessee constitution — is the separation of powers. This bill compromises our judiciary in violation of that separation and, as a result, fails to protect Tennessee’s system of checks and balances. Our state can do better.