Impartial Courts Legislative Update
We are pleased to report that the Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee approved the Bill on March 19 after referral from the Judiciary Committee. We are now waiting for the Bill to be considered by committees in the House. We will apprise you of the next House committee hearing, hopefully within the next week or two. Please contact your House representative to encourage passage of the Bill
Why not elect judges on merit, not whim?
Here is an good article about the need for a more informed judicial selection process, written by Wallace B. Jefferson, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.
Thursday, March 19, 2009 | Dallas Morning News
02:57 PM CDT on Thursday, March 12, 2009
You don’t know who I am. I don’t blame you.
I have been on the statewide ballot three times, in 2002, 2006 and
2008. I was elected each time by impressive margins. Yet a July 2008
statewide poll found that 86 percent of the electorate had “never
heard of” me. I won because Texans voted for Rick Perry, Kay Bailey
Hutchison and John McCain.
My parents gave me a good ballot name. My beautiful wife and three
handsome sons adorned political advertisements on network television.
But these things tell you nothing about my intellect, integrity or
My success depended primarily on a straight-ticket partisan vote.
I lost Bexar County last November, although it is my home. I am the
first African-American justice and chief justice on the Texas Supreme
Court, and I am the descendant of a slave who was owned by a Texas
judge. The irony of my pedigree, however, could not secure a victory
in Harris County, where the black voter turnout reached record
I campaigned hard on merit: I have handled cases successfully in the
U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit,
and the Supreme Court of Texas. I was endorsed by every major
newspaper in Texas. They said I was fair, impartial and independent. I
was the choice of most lawyer associations. Ultimately, though, my
qualifications were not relevant.
Even if I had never appeared in court, lost every endorsement and
fared poorly in polls that assess qualifications, I would still have
won in Texas. The state voted for McCain, and I was the down-ballot
Currently, merit matters little in judicial elections. We close our
eyes and vote for judges based on party affiliation, even though a
party label does not ensure a judiciary committed to the rule of law.
We reject worthy judicial candidates whose names are hard to
The men and women we elect in this arbitrary process make decisions
that affect all of our lives. We don’t know who they are.
In a close race, the judge who solicits the most money from lawyers
and their clients has the upper hand. But then the day of reckoning
comes. When you appear before a court, you ask how much your lawyer
gave to the judge’s campaign. If the opposing counsel gave more, you
are cynical. Aren’t you entitled to a fair hearing?
We must eliminate cynicism, money and partisanship in judicial
selection. We should adopt a system for judges that has two primary
components. Judges should achieve office by merit rather than whim,
and voters should hold judges accountable, based on their records,
through subsequent retention elections.
For the foreseeable future, I will win elections not because I am best
suited for the job, but in spite of my qualifications. When a judge’s
victory is based on party over principle, money over merit, cynicism
over the rule of law, voters lose.
Let’s change the system so that the law governs neutrally. What more
can we ask of democracy?
Wallace B. Jefferson is chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.