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Texas Politics - The Justice System
 
 
 
Rick Perry speaks at Republican convention. Rick Perry speaks at Republican convention.
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Profiling Texas judges Profiling Texas judges
4.3    Characteristics of the Judiciary

The formal qualifications identified in the previous section set the outside parameters for serving on the bench of the various Texas courts. However, a review of the demographic background of the members of the judiciary indicate additional "informal qualifications" for serving on the Texas judiciary.

The table Profiling Texas judges shows that an overwhelming majority of jurists in Texas are men (72 percent), and an even greater percentage are Caucasian or white (83 percent). Women and minority groups in Texas are significantly underrepresented, although to different degrees.

Though the gap in Texas between the proportion of women in the population and the proportion of judges who are women is greater than the comparable gap for any of the minority groups, the overall number of women judges is substantial. Asians, on the other hand, have extremely little representation and African Americans have very low representation in these courts.

The low representation of African Americans is especially noteworthy since African Americans have disproportionately high rates of arrest and conviction in criminal cases. Worse, they represent an extremely high proportion of death row inmates. Though recent appointments to the Supreme Court have increased the visibility of African American judges, the racial make-up of the defendants and judges in the criminal court system continues to draw criticism.

The recent appointment of African Americans to the Texas Supreme Court by Republican Governor Rick Perry has drawn attention to Republican efforts to court conservative and moderate African Americans. But whatever the mix of policy, politics, and legal reasoning behind recent appointments, the Supreme Court is currently more diverse than ever before. A video clip featured on this page captures the complexity of the history and the politics surrounding Perry's appointment of Wallace B. Jefferson to the court. Perry was speaking at the Texas Republican Party state convention in June 2004. The following September, the Governor elevated Jefferson to the position of Chief Justice after the resignation of Chief Justice Thomas Phillips - making Jefferson the first African American Chief Justice in Texas history.

Other notable aspects of the profile of Texas judges concern age and experience. The median age of judges is quite consistent across the six courts shown - ranging from 49 to 55 years. The number of years these judges have been licensed to practice law is similarly consistent, ranging from a considerable 21 to 25 years.

This suggests that, at least for the higher courts in the system, the judges bring considerable experience, in contrast to the relative inexperience among justices of the peace and judges in the Constitutional County courts.

The years of experience might, in fact, be a clear reflection of the selection process for judges on these courts. The direct, partisan election of judges in Texas favors well funded, well connected lawyers with significant private law experience.

Finally, it should be noted that along with other elected offices, the state's judicial bench has become increasingly Republican. This is especially true on the higher court levels, with Republicans holding all nine of the seats in both the Court of Criminal Appeals and the state Supreme Court since 1999. The first Republican ever elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Larry Myers, was elected in 1992. By 1999 all nine of the justices were Republicans. In the 2002 election Republicans swept all five of the contested seats for the Supreme Court and all three of the contested seats for the Court of Criminal appeals - both statewide offices.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 103
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