Tennessee legislature enters second decade of trying to remove Supreme Court’s power to appoint state’s attorney general

Tennessee is the only U.S. state that currently provides for its attorney general to be appointed by the state’s supreme court, a practice the state has had in place since its 1870 constitution was adopted. (“An Attorney-general and Reporter for the State, shall be appointed by the Judges of the Supreme Court, and shall hold his office for a term of eight years.”)

This provision has been the source of some legislative interest in the last 2 decades, in particular since 2007. The legislature has taken a look at this constitutional provision, as well as others for the state’s Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Comptroller who are presently appointed by the legislature, with an eye towards moving to partisan elections or more recently appointment and confirmation.

So far, none of the proposals have advanced. A proposal for popular elections for all 4 offices was approved by the Senate 19-12 in 2007 but was never forwarded to the House. With respect to the attorney general alone, 2012’s SJR 693 advanced the furthest and failed when only 16 of the 33 members of the Tennessee Senate voted in favor (15 opposed, 2 were present but did not vote). Appointment and confirmation may come back up before the full Senate later this session as the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a new version for 2013 (SJR 196) last week.

Year Bill Provisions Results
1997 HJR 74 Popular election Died in House subcommittee
2002 SJR 535 Popular election, including for Secretary of State, Treasurer & Comptroller Died in Senate Judiciary Committee
2003 SJR 19 Popular election Died in Senate Judiciary Committee
2003 SJR 52 Popular election Died in Senate Judiciary Committee
2007 SJR 139 Popular election, including for Secretary of State, Treasurer & Comptroller Approved by full Senate 19-12; held on Senate clerk’s desk
2007 SJR 36 Popular election Died in Senate Judiciary Committee
2009 HJR 103 Popular election Died in House subcommittee
2009 SJR 77 Popular election, including for Secretary of State, Treasurer & Comptroller Rejected 2-2 with 3 present but not voting by Senate Judiciary Committee
2010 SJR 747 Popular election Died in Senate Judiciary Committee
2011 HJR 69 Popular election, including for Secretary of State, Treasurer & Comptroller Died in House subcommittee
2011 SJR 37 Popular election, including for Secretary of State, Treasurer & Comptroller Rejected 0-6 with 3 present but not voting by Senate Judiciary Committee
2012 HJR 804 Gubernatorial appointment with legislative confirmation Approved by House Judiciary Committee (voice vote), died in subcommittee of House Finance, Ways & Means Committee
2012 SJR 693 Gubernatorial appointment with legislative confirmation Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Rejected by full House on 16-15 vote, 2 present not voting (required 17 to pass)
2013 HJR 103 Modified popular election: Governor nominates one person, legislature another to appear on ballot Rejected by House Civil Justice’s subcommittee
2013 SJR 123 Popular election In Senate Judiciary Committee
2013 SJR 196 Gubernatorial appointment with legislative confirmation Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee 4/3/13.
2013 SJR 270 Popular election In Senate (no committee)

 

One thought on “Tennessee legislature enters second decade of trying to remove Supreme Court’s power to appoint state’s attorney general”

  1. Tennessee has the best way ever designed to choose the state’s attorney general. Those elected almost always use the office as a springboard to the governor’s office. Our system keeps the office out of politics, insures competence and there is no reason to change. Some legislators just get aggravated when the AG finds their pet bills to be unconstitutional. Often he declines to file lawsuits against the federal government which would be a waste of time and money, but are pet projects to a few lawmakers. I have known many AGs in my nearly 50 years of practice and every one has been untainted by politics, honest and effective.

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