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State of Tennessee

Judicial Selection in the States: Tennessee

Overview

News

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The Tennessee judiciary is composed of three appellate courts--the supreme court, court of appeals, and court of criminal appeals; four trial courts of general jurisdiction--the chancery court, circuit court, probate court, and criminal court; and three courts of limited jurisdiction--the juvenile court, general sessions court, and municipal court. In terms of judicial selection method, Tennessee is considered a "hybrid" state; some judges are chosen through merit selection and others run in partisan elections.

Under the Tennessee Plan adopted by the legislature in 1994, merit selection, with retention elections and performance evaluation, is utilized for all appellate court judges. The Plan was set to expire in June 2009 if not renewed by the legislature, but with only two weeks remaining, the merit selection, retention, and evaluation system was preserved. The new legislation made modifications to the selection and composition of the nominating commission, the number of nominees submitted to the governor, and the ballot language in retention elections. It also calls for contested elections under certain circumstances. The Tennessee Plan has been the subject of several state and federal constitutional challenges, but these challenges have been unsuccessful.

An interesting feature of the Tennessee judiciary is that judicial terms are not staggered, leaving the possibility that a court's composition could change significantly in a single election year.