When Tom Phillips was Chief Justice, he spent a substantial amount of energy pushing for reform of how Texas picks judges.
It looks as if Chief Justice Jefferson will soon be taking up the same fight. In an email sent to supporters a few days ago, he suggests calling for “a summit of public citizens, officials, the media, lawyers, and various interest groups” to debate judicial selection and campaign financing for judicial races, with the results sent to the Legislature:
This is a strange way to select those who guard our legal rights. It is time to decide whether partisan election is the best means to ensure judicial competence. … I will convene a summit of public citizens, officials, the media, lawyers, and various interest groups, and will ask them to debate judicial selection. I will also ask them to consider how best to finance a judicial campaign. We will present our conclusions to the Legislature, which is the only democratic body vested with the power to initiate any required constitutional reforms. Even if the Legislature elects to retain our current system, I hope that we can recommend reforms so that a vote for a judicial candidate is closely correlated with merit rather than political affiliation or other irrelevant factors.
The Houston Chronicle has an article in today’s paper about the same thing. The article quotes a number of Houston-area politicians who seem uninterested in changing the system.
We know the public hates the fund-raising that is required to run a campaign (and that may well be constitutionally protected so long as there are campaigns). But we know the public likes being asked its opinion about things through elections.
Framing this issue in a way that captures the Legislature’s and the public’s attention sounds like a job for an appellate lawyer. I’ll report here on any public findings that come out of the Chief’s summit, as well as any legislation introduced on this subject.