Senate votes to change the way Attorney General is selected

TN State Senate
Tennessee State Senate (photo: WikiMedia)

(NASHVILLE), February 21, 2019 — A resolution allowing voters to change the way Tennessee’s Attorney General is selected was approved by the full Senate on Thursday.  Senate Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), calls for an open nomination process by the Tennessee Supreme Court in selecting the State Attorney General, followed by a confirmation vote of the nominee by a majority of both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly.

“This is one of the most important jobs in the state,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), sponsor of the bill.  “The State Attorney General has over 300 employees and a budget of over $40 million, not to mention the decisions that are made which affect the lives of the people of Tennessee. The reason for this legislation is two-fold.  It will provide for a more transparent process in the selection of nominees.  The second is that confirmation by the General Assembly will make the process accountable, giving elected officials a role in the process which adheres to the intention of the authors of our 1870 State Constitution.  It also keeps intact a role for the judiciary in the process.”

The 1870 constitution required Supreme Court judges be elected by Tennessee voters.  Yager said the current system of appointing justices means the selection of the State Attorney General is twice removed from the public.  Tennessee is the only state in which the State Supreme Court appoints the attorney general.  The votes taken by the court on nominees are not currently disclosed to the public.

The resolution would require the votes of the Tennessee Supreme Court justices to be held in open court, with recorded votes. Once the nomination is made, the legislature would have sixty days to go through the confirmation process. In the event that the candidate is rejected, then the court would have 60 days to make another nomination.

Before proceeding to a vote by the people, the resolution must be approved by a simple majority of the 111th General Assembly during the 2019-2020 sessions and by a two-thirds majority of the 112th General Assembly which will convene in 2021-2022.  Once on the ballot, constitutional amendments must receive a plurality of votes cast in the gubernatorial election.

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