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Proposal to change the way Tenn. judges selected

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Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Governor Bill Haslam wants to put constitutional questions about the way judges are selected in Tennessee before the voters.

Haslam was joined Wednesday by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell - all Republicans - in announcing they oppose the popular election of Supreme Court justices.

They proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to be nominated by a commission based on merit, appointed by the governor, and chosen in a retention election as they are now.

They said legislation will also be filed to extend the Judicial Nominating Commission and the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission until at least 2015.

"I believe the current process has worked well during my time in office, and I've been pleased with both the quality of candidates and the process for choosing them," Haslam said in prepared remarks. "The judiciary is the third and equal branch of government, and we are here to make this recommendation because we believe it is important to our constitution to clearly reflect the reality of how we select judges in Tennessee."

Rep. Glen Casada said he we will still press ahead with a bill calling for the popular election of Supreme Court judges. The Franklin Republican said his measure calls for elections in August 2014, two months before the proposed constitutional amendment would go before voters.

"The people of Tennessee want to elect the judges, and we should implement my bill and then see if the people want to change the constitution," Casada said. "I don't think they will."

Casada acknowledged that his proposal faces a tough road to passage given the position of the governor and the two speakers.

"But I contend that even if you don't agree with my legislation, you've got to adhere to the constitution - even if you don't like it," he said.

Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association, has said he sees the changes as unnecessary because the state Supreme Court has upheld the current system under which the governor appoints appeals judges and they stand for yes-no retention votes after that.

"But if the General Assembly decides a constitutional amendment is necessary, we'll support that, too," he told The Associated Press last week.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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