Panel opens applications for Tennessee judicial vacancies

Friday, October 18, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 42

NASHVILLE (AP) - The application process for upcoming judicial vacancies on two Tennessee courts is underway again after Gov. Bill Haslam created a new panel to vet applicants.

Haslam last week signed an executive order creating the Governor's Commission for Judicial Appointments. It largely mirrors the state's Judicial Nominating Commission, which lawmakers allowed to expire in June.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder and Appeals Judge David Farmer have announced they will not seek another term in the 2014 elections. The new panel will accept applicants for the two vacancies through Oct. 31 and hold public hearings with the candidates in November.

Voters will decide next year whether to ratify a constructional amendment to give state lawmakers the power to approve or reject the nominations to fill judicial vacancies.

Under the expired Tennessee judicial selection method, a commission nominated appeals judges and Supr eme Court justices. The governor appointed them and voters cast ballots either for or against keeping them on the bench.

The system has withstood legal challenges, but critics say it conflicts with language in the state constitution that says Supreme Court justices "shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state."

Perennial political candidate John Jay Hooker earlier this year filed a lawsuit in Nashville circuit court challenging the appointments. Knoxville attorney Herbert S. Moncier last week sued Haslam in federal court in Knoxville seeking to prevent the governor from naming judges to appeals court benches.

Moncier said the current system deprives him of his right to stand for election to an upcoming vacancy in the eastern section of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, where Haslam has named Robert "Rob" H. Montgomery Jr. to succeed Joseph M. Tipton, who is retiring at the end of his current term.