- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Sept. 12

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tennessee, on mandatory jail term is upheld:

Another example of warped justice from mandatory sentencing laws involves a Hixon, Tenn., man sentenced to 15 years in prison for possession of seven shotgun shells.

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld, though reluctantly, the prison term of Edward Lamar Young, a repeat offender.

Justices said they had no choice under the Armed Career Criminal Act, a federal get-tough-on-crime law which imposes mandatory sentences for some crimes, including possession of firearms equipment by a convicted felon.

The justices acknowledged that Young had no criminal intent when he accepted the shells while helping a neighbor dispose of her late husband’s belongings.

Young had criminal convictions from the early 1990s. Police searched his home in October 2011 while investigating a series of burglaries in the neighborhood, The Associated Press reported. They found stolen tools and the shotgun shells, but no weapons.

“He acquired the shotgun shells passively, he kept them without any criminal motive, and his knowledge extended only to his possession and not to its illegality,” the majority opinion said.

“Holding that a sentence is constitutional does not make the sentence just,” one judge on the court said. “This case once again reveals the need for, at minimum, a more sensible and targeted act, one that would continue to remove from society those who are most likely to cause harm while allowing less severe sentences for those who, like Young, do not pose that risk.”

The ruling apparently will be appealed. It should be. And Congress should fix the law.




Sept. 17

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on new Tennessee attorney general :

Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey lost his partisan quest in August to have voters oust three Democratic justices on the state Supreme Court, but he has garnered a measure of revenge.

Those three justices joined the court’s two Republican justices on Monday to appoint a Republican, Herbert Slatery, to an eight-year term as state attorney general. The move denied a second term to current Atty. Gen. Robert Cooper, a Democrat.

By all accounts Cooper did a good job and his only sin was that he is a Democrat. If there were other reasons he was rejected, the public got cheated out of knowing, because the justices, after promising an open appointment process, made their final decision behind closed doors.

After the justices’ decision, Ramsey, who is also lieutenant governor, issued this statement: “As the first Republican attorney general in Tennessee history, Herbert Slatery will be a strong advocate for the people of Tennessee and a vigilant defender of Tennessee’s conservative reforms. … I look forward to working with him to defend our conservative reforms and the legal interests of all Tennesseans.”

It should be disconcerting to all Tennesseans when a powerful state politician implies that the opinions issued by the state’s top legal voice should be based on partisan or philosophical platforms.

Like Tennessee’s appellate court judges, the attorney general should offer opinions based on the state’s laws and its constitution. He or she should not be beholden to any political party.

This could have been worse, though. The justices did not choose the candidate Ramsey backed but instead appointed Slatery, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief legal counsel.

Tennessee is the only state in which the attorney general is appointed by the state Supreme Court. That should be a good thing, because election by a popular vote would subject the candidates for attorney general to an overabundance of partisan pressure.

We are not so naive as to think that partisanship played no role in the appointment of previous attorneys general, but citizens should be alarmed over Ramsey’s strident effort to get a person appointed who would be guided by the “conservative reforms” backed by the Republican-dominated General Assembly.

As for the Supreme Court justices, it is disheartening that they made the appointment in private, especially after all their talk about transparency and accountability.



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