Does Tennessee legislature have the 2/3rds vote needed to put a change to judicial selection on the ballot? What if they don’t? And will the August 2014 judicial elections be partisan ones?

I’ve mentioned the press in 2012 to change the way judges for Tennessee’s appellate courts are selected, moving from a merit selection style system to a quasi-federal one (governor appoints, both chambers of the legislature confirm, retention elections thereafter).

The bill (SJR 710 of 2012) was approved with the simple majority necessary in 2012. But the 2013 versions face a much harder climb: the state constitution requires a 2/3rds approve by the 2013/2014 legislature.

The first test vote could come this week. SJR 2 has been calendared for a vote by the full Senate today (February 11), having been approved 8-1 by the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 5.

Meanwhile in the House, HJR 8 was approved on a voice vote in the Civil Justice Committee on February 6.

The bill needs 22 votes in the Senate and 66 in the House. To put that in perspective, the 2012 vote was 22-9 in the Senate and 70-27 in the House.

What makes matters even more interesting is that the state’s current merit selection system will sunset automatically prior to the August 2014 elections, making it unclear what precisely will happen even if SJR 2 or HJR 8 are put on the November 2014 ballot.

In anticipation of that, SB 406 and HB 280 have been filed requiring the August 2014 elections be held as contested partisan elections (“each political party may nominate a candidate for election to each such office”) one each from 5 grand divisions in the state (the state currently has 3; these bills would redistrict the state).