The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a resolution on Wednesday that would allow Tennessee voters to decide if they want to elect the state’s attorney general. Senate Joint Resolution 63, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers would begin the process of amending the state constitution, which if approved, would go to voters in the 2018 general election.
“Tennessee is the only state in the nation in which the people have neither a direct nor indirect voice in the selection of their attorney general, and we are the only state that gives that power to our Supreme Court,” said Senator Beavers.
Senator Beavers’ resolution calls for the AG to serve a six-year term, but would limit it to two consecutive terms. The resolution requires approval by the 109th General Assembly currently in session, and the 110th which will take office in 2017, before going to voters in a statewide referendum.
"I told the committee that I believe that it was even more important now that we pass a constitutional amendment to elect the Attorney General since the people voted for Amendment 2 (last November Election) and gave away their right to select Supreme Court Justices to the Governor," said Senator Beavers in an interview on WJLE Thursday morning.
Senator Beavers said that when Tennessee’s Constitution was written, calling for nomination of the AG by the state’s Supreme Court justices, the court was popularly elected. Forty-three states already select their attorney generals through popular election. In six other states, the AG is selected by either the elected governor or the elected state legislature.
“I feel that the citizens of this state ought to have a ‘say-so’ in the highest legal office in Tennessee. Our Constitution says that the Supreme Court Justices shall be elected by the people. And then the framers of our Constitution in all their wisdom thought that it was fine for the Supreme Court to select our Attorney General. As I told the committee, the system became broken when the Tennessee Plan was passed. I believe that was unconstitutional. It did not follow the Constitution in what it said about us electing our judges. We have a body (Supreme Court) that is appointed by the Governor and we have them selecting our Attorney General. That is a huge conflict of interest for a man appointed by that body to practice in front of that body. The Attorney General is our attorney. The people's attorney," said Senator Beavers.
The bill now goes to the Senate floor where it will be heard on three readings before taking a final vote. It will then travel to the House of Representatives for approval there.