Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Taking away the voice of the people

Last week Wallace Jefferson, the first black Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, announced that he was stepping down from the Court on October 1, 2013. His stated reason is financial. Judge Jefferson has one child in college and two others in high school and is making a mere $152,000 a year (but a pay raise authorized by the legislature would make that $170,000).

I'm quite certain that he will be stepping down from the bench and into a corner office at either a white shoe or boutique firm in San Antonio without missing a step. I'm interested to see just how quickly he moves into that office.

Once he leaves the bench, the fair-haired one, Gov. Rick Perry, will have yet another opportunity to appoint a conservative jurist to the bench.

Now, for those of y'all who think that partisan elections are a bad way to pick judges, you should love the Texas Supreme Court. It is, for the most part, made up of judges who were appointed by Gov. Perry who periodically run in retention elections to determine whether they get to keep their seat.

Chief Justice Jefferson was appointed to the Court in 2001, he was then appointed Chief Justice in 2004.

Justices Phil Johnson and Don Willett were appointed to the Court in 2005.

Justice Eva Guzman was appointed in 2009. This followed her appointment to the 14th Court of Appeals in 2001 which followed her appointment to a state district court.

Justice Debra Lehrmann was appointed to the Court in 2010.

Justice Jeffrey Boyd was appointed to the Court in 2012. Interestingly enough, prior to that appointment he served as Gov. Perry's chief of staff. Prior to that he served as the governor's general counsel.

Of the nine judges on the Texas Supreme Court, only Nathan Hecht, Paul Green and John Devine were ever elected to their seats. Thus, the overwhelming majority of the court (which presides over civil matters) is answerable to no one. As they are all Republicans, so long as the GOP controls statewide races in Texas, their seats will remain safe. Aside from lawyers who practice before the court, the only other folks interested in the Supreme Court are business interests who have an interest in keeping their buddies on the bench fed.

So, before you start waving the banner to get rid of partisan judicial elections in Texas, just ask yourself if you really want a governor to have the power to appoint every judge across the state.

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