By Doug Buttrey, Executive Director, Tennesseans for Economic Growth
Earlier this year, Tennesseans spoke out. Under the leadership of Governor Bill Haslam they made it clear that the state needs civil justice reform as an important way to grow jobs. By overwhelming majorities, both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly agreed and the Tennessee Civil Justice Act will soon be the law of the land (October 1).
However, now is not the time to relax in our quest to make Tennessee the number one state in job growth. Our new tort reform law is likely to improve our # 19 status in the next U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey. That is critical. Working annually with its Institute for Legal Reform, the Chamber surveys corporate leaders about how they assess the lawsuit climate in each of the 50 states. The survey is considered most influential among those making decisions about where to locate and/or create more jobs. It looks at a number of areas including a state’s laws governing tort and contract litigation, class action suits, damages, discovery as well as judges’ impartiality and competence.
But according to the American Tort Reform Association more than 30 new tort reform laws were passed across the country this past year. How do we continue to make Tennessee stand out to business leaders, who are not only seeking a positive business climate, but a state that offers predictability and a way to quantify risk as they decide what to do and where to locate?
Actually, what we need to do now is keep the key features of the present system Tennessee employs to select appellate judges. Contested, partisan and costly elections are not the way to go. Job creators place a high value on consistency, integrity and predictability in running their businesses and they value the same attributes in the judiciary. The U.S. Chamber and the American Tort Reform Association have concluded that Tennessee’s current judicial selection process is a preferred system for business recruitment and job creation.
According to a 2009 study by the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, “the quality of justice in our state courts is of critical importance to the entire business community.” Consider the impartiality of judges for example. If judges are biased, our system of justice fails. Judges who receive large campaign contributions cannot be impartial. Moreover, our court dockets are overburdened. We need our appellate judges to do their jobs – deciding cases and writing decisions - rather than having to be out campaigning across the state and raising millions of dollars to be re-elected. Tennessee’s current system is efficient and cost-effective.
Remember, two-thirds of those responding to the U.S. Chamber’s most recent survey of our nation’s judicial systems say “a state’s (legal)…environment is likely to impact important business decisions…. such as where to locate or expand their businesses.” And that’s a response from business leaders that has risen 10% in the survey in just the last three years!
Indeed, if you look at the states at the bottom of U.S. Chamber survey list (California, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia), there is a strong correlation between their lowly positions and the fact that all but one (California) use contested, partisan elections to select their appellate judges.
Conversely, of the five states on top in the survey (Delaware, North Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana and Iowa) all but one (North Dakota) use a merit selection system for appointment of appellate justices similar to Tennessee.
Tennessee should stay smart and help create jobs by enhancing our business climate. We can do that by maintaining our current system of selecting appellate judges. Costly, contested, partisan elections will only take us backward and hurt job creation.
For further information, please contact
TEG Executive Director Doug Buttrey
John Van Mol