Fri. Jun 18th, 2021

Tennessee lawmakers have approved a plan to change the way judges can rule on constitutional claims against state law. 

The bill creating new three-judge panels to hear the cases passed the House 67-22, with one present not voting, Wednesday night. The Senate followed with a 27-2 vote. 

The measure dramatically reshapes how the judiciary operates in Tennessee ahead of what could be more challenges by local governments and others to state law.

In recent months, debate swirled around the idea of removing some power from Davidson County judges, which Republican lawmakers consider too liberal and not representative of the state as a whole

On Wednesday, the House and Senate passed conflicting versions of the bill.

Instead, lawmakers reached a compromise. The new version tosses out the idea of creating a separate body and instead modifies the existing process. 

“We are not going to be creating a new court,” Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, said Wednesday evening. “We’re going to be saving taxpayers billions of dollars.”

Representative Andrew Ellis Farmer speaks at the end of the legislative session in the Tennessee House of Representatives in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

The bill would have the Tennessee Supreme Court step in and appoint two additional elected judges to form a panel to hear cases, including constitutional claims against the stateand those over upcoming redistricting plans.

Each time, the chief justice would choose one judge from each of the other two Grand Divisions to join the original judge in each relevant case.

The cases would then be heard in the division where the case was first filed.