Yesterday was the deadline for potential candidates to file for the three seats up for election on the Texas Supreme Court. None of the incumbents (all of whom are Republicans) have primary challengers.

Quite unlike 2000 — when none of the incumbent Justices running for reelection even had a Democratic challenger — five Democratic challengers have lined up for 2008. There is one uncontested Democratic primary (for Chief Justice) and two contested ones, including one that has already sparked a dispute over the sufficiency of ballot signatures:

  • For Chief Justice: District Judge Jim Jordan from Dallas, running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
  • For Place 7 (held by Justice Wainwright): Two non-judges in this race— Baltasar D. Cruz from Dallas is facing off against Samuel A. Houston from Houston in the Democratic primary. More information about Cruz is available on his campaign blog. The Texas Ethics Commission still lists him as a candidate for the 14th District Court, but I presume that will be updated. As for the other name on the ballot, the interesting academic question is how he will list his name on the ballot. Will he participate in the long Texas tradition of angling for the best ballot name to appeal to voters who actually know nothing about either candidate? The blogosphere coverage of his announcement and his campaign site call him “Sam Houston,” but his firm website and various public filings (including his initial filing with the Texas Ethics Commission [see page 34]) refer to him Samuel A. Houston. The answer may be in the spreadsheet on the state Democratic Party website, which says his “name as to appear on ballot” is “Sam Houston.” ((Of course, any question about this may truly be academic. He may very well have been using the shorter form “Sam” for many years; I have not (yet) met him personally, and the Google noise makes it very difficult to tell given the many high schools, roads, and other features with that same shorter name. (Various public filings do come up under the longer form of the name, however, but that also may be an artifact of web indexing rather than how he is commonly known.) If someone has more information about this, I would appreciate your comment below.)) The statute governing ballot names in Texas is more lenient with short, familiar forms of given names than with nicknames (like “Kinky” or “Grandma” in the last election cycle), but it does appear to impose at least some minimal requirements. ((Texas Election Code 52.031(b) governs what name can appear alongside a candidate’s surname. Subsection (1) permits a candidate’s “given” name. Subsection (2) permits use of “a contraction or familiar form of a given name by which the candidate is known” in place of their given name, so, for example, “Rick Perry” can appear instead of “James Richard Perry.” The question under Subsection (2) would be whether “Sam” is a familiar form “by which the candidate is known.” (A lawyer could certainly argue that the restrictive language “by which the candidate is known” refers to the given name, not to the short form and thus it is irrelevant whether the candidate has ever used the short form, but that reading is difficult to square with the absence of similar language in Subsection (1).) ))
  • For Place 8 (held by Justice Johnson): This is the Judge Susan Criss versus Justice Linda Yanez primary contest. Unlike the relatively low-key Place 7 race, this one has already been drawing substantial interest from the internet. The race features a sitting district judge (Criss) against a sitting appellate judge (Yanez), and the campaigns are already skirmishing over the relative value of trial-court experience and appellate-court experience as qualifications for the high court. Most recently, it is has been reported that Criss supporters have objected to the quantity of signatures gathered by the Yanez campaign and that Yanez has amended her application at the deadline. If this dispute develops into litigation, it could well end up before the Texas Supreme Court itself.