special court

Partisan statewide chancery court idea dropped in House, replaced by new appeals court

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A Senate proposal to create a statewide chancery court made up of three judges elected in statewide partisan elections has been dropped in the House. Instead, the lower chamber wants to create a new “court of special appeals,” made up of three new judges who would stand for yes-no retention elections.

The new panel could take up case in which the attorney general intervenes on behalf of the state, and it would be the court of original jurisdiction for any challenges of redistricting plans.

Former lawmakers or governors would not be eligible to serve on the new intermediate court of appeals. Members would be appointed by the governor, though nominees would have to be confirmed by a joint convention of the General Assembly.

Senate Judiciary Chair Mike Bell (R-Riceville) has been a main proponent of holding popular elections for a statewide chancery court. The conflicting versions of the court proposals could lead to the need for a conference committee to see if the two chambers can work out their differences.

Here’s the full House amendment sponsored by Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville):

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 16, is amended by adding the following as a new chapter:

16-7-101.

There is created and established an appellate court to be designated and styled the court of special appeals of Tennessee.

16-7-102.

(a) The court of special appeals is composed of three (3) judges, one (1) from each grand division of the state.

(b)

(1) Immediately preceding appointment, each Judge must be at least thirty (30) years of age, must have been a resident of the state for at least five (5) consecutive years, and must have been a resident of the grand division from which the judge is appointed for at least one (1) year. For purposes of this section, resident has the same meaning as defined in § 2-1-104. The judges must be duly licensed to practice law in this state.

(2) In order to ensure fairness, to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and to avoid political bias, a former member of the general assembly or a former governor shall not serve as a judge of the court of special appeals.

(c) The governor shall appoint three (3) persons to serve as judges of the court of special appeals and vacancies on the court of special appeals must be filled by the governor. Each judge of the court of special appeals will be elected by the qualified voters of the state in a statewide retention election conducted in accordance with title 17, chapter 4, part 1. A judge of the court of special appeals must qualify as a candidate and be elected by the qualified voters of the state.

The initial terms of the judges begin on October 1, 2021. The oath of office for each judge of the court of special appeals must be filed and entered on the minutes of the court in the grand division from which the judge resides. The oath must likewise be filed and entered on the records in the office of the secretary of state at Nashville.

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