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Texas Politics - The Executive Branch
capital punishment
7.    The Governor and the Judiciary

Because judges at all levels of the Texas judiciary are elected, the Governor exercises less power over the judiciary than the U.S. President, who makes all appointments to the federal judiciary. Yet governors do get some opportunities to influence the state judiciary, because the Governor appoints judges to fill vacancies that result from death, removal, resignation, or the creation of new courts by the legislature. These appointed judges will have the advantage of incumbency should they seek reelection. The Governor also has limited powers of clemency, which gives him or her the capacity to grant relief from criminal punishment. Unlike governors in many states, the Texas Governor cannot independently issue a pardon or sentence commutation. In death penalty cases, the Governor can issue one thirty-day reprieve. He or she can also make recommendations to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and can either approve or reject the board's recommendations on pardons or sentence reductions.

Prior to a 1934 constitutional amendment, the Governor had independent pardon powers. The amendment removing these powers was added after Jim and Miriam Ferguson were accused of selling clemency during her term as Governor. In modern times, governors have used what clemency powers they have been left with sparingly. As the application of the death penalty in the state has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism, and new technology has been made available to review old cases, governors have used reprieves to deflect criticism by allowing for further review of death penalty cases. These incidents have been rare, given the weak opposition to capital punishment. In cases where there is some compelling question about carrying out an execution, governors are ultimately in a safe position. Granting a thirty-day reprieve can appear judicious but not overly soft on criminals, as the governor cannot prevent an execution on his or her own. Yet in the event a mistake is found and a wrongful execution prevented, the governor is likely to appear careful and just. Still, Texas governors have granted such reprieves relatively rarely.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 117
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