Gov. Haslam can appoint judges to the bench despite the expiration this summer of the Judicial Nominating Commission according to the attorney general.

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By Chas Sisk, The Tennessean

Gov. Bill Haslam can appoint judges to the bench despite the expiration this summer of the Judicial Nominating Commission, the attorney general said in an opinion released Wednesday.

Attorney General Robert Cooper said that letting the governor fill vacancies that arise when judges die or step down in the middle of their terms would be in the public interest. Lawyers for the state also said statements made by legislators in 2009 indicated they did not want the commission's termination to thwart appointments.

Earlier this year, the state legislature adjourned for the year without extending the mandate of the Judicial Nominating Commission, which screened applicants for the state bench. Voters are to decide next year on a constitutional amendment that would set up a new procedure for choosing judges.

A 2009 law requires the governor to choose judges from lists prepared by the commission, and its end has raised legal questions about whether the governor could fill vacancies on his own. Just before its sunset on June 30, the commission produced several lists of nominees to fill vacancies coming up over the next year.

The attorney general's opinion suggests Haslam will be able to fill any unexpected vacancies.

"The governor will now have further discussions with legislative leadership on next steps in working toward the common goal of a fully functioning judiciary in Tennessee," spokesman David Smith said.

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