Ramsey recommends reapportionment

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Tennessee's lieutenant governor wants reapportionment of judicial districts because their populations vary greatly; it's been 30 years since lines were drawn; and politics played too great a role in the process last time.

Marshall County is in the 17th Judicial District with Bedford, Lincoln and Moore counties. If lines were changed it would affect the 2014 elections for three bench seats, the district attorney and the public defender, as well as the people working for them and those they serve.

Child support cases might be affected, according to District Attorney Robert Carter of Fayetteville, because the prosecutor's office deals with the Department of Human Services because of child support issues and related casework.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, speaker of the state Senate, on Monday appealed to anyone concerned with the prospect of changing judicial district lines by asking for suggestions on how to accomplish it with the least trouble. Ramsey has no map for new districts.

Judicial reapportionment "was not on my radar until early summer," Ramsey said. An aide told him since legislative redistricting was finished, lawmakers might redraw lines for judges, prosecutors and public defenders.

One district has 32,000 people while another has nearly three times as many, Ramsey said.

"It's a hodgepodge now," said Ramsey, citing the one-person, one-vote constitutional standard for representative government.

"Now's the time to do it," he said. It was last done in 1984. Judicial district candidates run for eight-year terms, so if it's not done for the 2014 elections, 46 years would pass between reapportionment for those offices.

Reapportionment might be done to affect 2022 elections.

However, that would have to be done when the House is drawing legislative district lines based on the 2020 census.

"And it's not fun," Ramsey said. "This is the obvious time to do it.

"Last time it was very political," Ramsey said recalling 1984. House Speaker Ned McWherter established several small judicial districts. Rep. Shelby A. Rhinehart had a judicial district created during floor debate.

"That's the reason Coffee County became its own district," Ramsey said.

He's been told him officials like the districts they have.

"That's not an excuse to not do it," he said. "I'm told we may have judges running against each other. "Yes. That's the way it works," and it's ironic the court system tells lawmakers their district lines must be redrawn every decade.

As populations grew in some districts, case loads grew, so another judge was added, he said. However, one man's arrest might come with three charges and one case, or three cases depending on the district.

Hypothetically, the 17th Judicial District "might lose Moore County," he said.

As for reactions to reapportionment since the House district now served by Rep. Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg) includes all of Marshall County but only parts of Lincoln, Franklin and Marion counties, Ramsey said, "I had nothing to do with the house plan... There will always be accusations."

Besides, court challenges to district lines were unsuccessful, he said.