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Texas Politics - The Justice System
Houston attorneys: selecting Texas judges Houston attorneys: selecting Texas judges
Different groups judge the justice system Different groups judge the justice system
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Read about the provisions and politics of the 1974 Constitutional Convention in The Handbook of Texas Online.

4.7    The Future of Partisan Judicial Elections in Texas

Critics have made numerous calls in recent years for a new system for filling judicial posts. Allegations of wrong-doing and general concerns over perceived injustices in criminal cases have caused numerous professional and citizen groups to become disaffected with the present system.

The state Constitutional Convention of 1974 proposed a new constitution that would have made judicial elections non-partisan. However, voters did not ratify that proposed constitution.

Since then, the Legislature has debated numerous proposals for either an appointive system or non-partisan elections. All have been rejected.

Support exists for changing our system of judicial selection. As the feature How Should Judges Be Selected? illustrates, a poll of members of the Houston Bar Association conducted by the Houston Chronicle in 2001 showed that an overwhelming 81 percent believed that Texas should change its method of electing judges. Almost half (49 percent) believed that the state should adopt some sort of merit selection process. Another 39 percent said the state should adopt a non-partisan election process.

Others see it differently. Writing in Veritas, the journal of the nonprofit Texas Public Policy Foundation, Justice Tom James of the Fifth District Texas Court of Appeals argued for fixing the existing system of partisan judicial elections as opposed to fundamentally changing it. [4]

Rather than serving the goal of independence, James argues, the army of critics of partisan judicial elections include numerous well funded lobbyists and special interests that see an opportunity for control of the appointment process. From this perspective, many of the critics of the current system represent powerful competing interests seeking other avenues for influencing judicial selection and judicial behavior, presumably because their particular interests do not fare very well under the current system.

An additional dynamic in debates over judicial selection is the changing nature of party competition in the state. The recent electoral success of the Republican Party in the state may reinforce those wishing to keep the current system of judicial selection. Republicans have swept all eighteen of the seats on the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. These are statewide offices, for which all Texas voters may cast a ballot. So the shift in the state over the past decade to majority support for Republicans has given the party monopoly control over the two highest courts in the state. Republicans also have made significant inroads at all other levels of the state court structure. Preserving the current system thus means protecting many incumbent Republicans. This chapter's feature Judging Texas Justice in the Court of Opinion discusses public opinions about various aspects of the justice system.

4 Tom James, "Reforming Judicial Selection: The Case for Judicial Elections in Texas," Veritas, March 2002, pp. 21-26.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 116
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