Senate leaves attorney general election decision in voter hands

Staff Reports • Updated Mar 24, 2017 at 11:00 AM

The state Senate approved a resolution Monday that would allow Tennessee voters to decide whether they want to elect the state’s attorney general.

Senate Joint Resolution 57, sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, starts the process to amend the Tennessee Constitution, which if approved by voters, calls for the attorney general to be elected beginning with the November 2024 general election.

“Currently, the attorney general is twice removed from those he or she is supposed to represent – the people of Tennessee,” Beavers said. “It is time we let the citizens have more of a say in their government.” 

State attorneys general are directly elected in 43 states. Of the remaining seven, six are appointed by the governor or the state legislature. Unlike any other state, the justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court appoint the attorney general for a term of eight years.

Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor and stand for a retention vote.

“This means you have appointees appointing the AG,” Beavers said.

Beavers’ resolution calls for the attorney general to be elected to a four-year term, but would limit it to two consecutive terms. The amendment process requires a simple majority by the 110th General Assembly currently in session and a two-thirds majority in the 111th General Assembly, which is elected in 2018, before going to voters in a statewide referendum in 2022.

To be adopted, a proposed constitutional amendment must receive one more vote than half the number of votes cast in the gubernatorial election.  

The resolution also provides that the attorney general to be 30 years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, an attorney duly licensed in Tennessee and a resident of the state for at least five years preceding an election. 

“We must have the respect for the citizens of this great state that they would be able to elect a great attorney general to uphold and defend our constitution. Along with the vast majority of the rest of this nation, I feel that the citizens of this state ought to have a say so in the highest legal office in Tennessee,” Beavers said.

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