New Laws, Low Recognition Hurt State Supreme Court (250)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A University of Tennessee poll shows that nine of 10 Tennesseans do not know that E. Riley Anderson is the State Supreme Court Chief Justice.

 That, combined with new state laws, could make the chief justice post a political hot seat, a UT political scientist said Monday.

Dr. John Scheb said the latest Tennessee Poll shows that public recognition of Anderson is very low. Ethical conflicts with fairness and objectivity keep judges from campaigning, so the public often knows little about them, Scheb said.

 Under Tennessee laws set in 1994, governor-appointed justices must be reinstated by public vote after eight years. In 1998, a new state commission will further evaluate judges’ performances.

 Scheb said this could make judges easier to target by groups who oppose them.

 “The judge is appointed with people not really knowing who he or she is, yet the public is asked to make a decision about them,” Scheb said. “The problem may be that if an opposing group targets someone on the court, it could be difficult for that judge to confront those charges.”

 Scheb said cases such as that of former State Justice Penny White, who in August 1996 became the first Supreme Court judge ousted by Tennessee voters, could become more common.

 “The system works pretty well for incumbents as long as no group really targets them,” Scheb said. “But when they do, it is very difficult for judges to fight back.”

 Scheb conducts the Tennessee Poll for UT-Knoxville’s Social Sciences Research Institute.

 Contact: Dr. John Scheb (423-974-2730)