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Judicial Selection in the States: Texas

Overview

News

A plan to restructure North Carolina s entire judicial election map was approved in committee earlier this week but appears to have been blocked from...

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News reports indicate that at least two members of the New Jersey Senate plan to introduced a constitutional amendment to require New Jersey supreme court...

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When Texas chief justice in his State of the Judiciary address brought up the issue of ending straight ticket voting (STV) for judicial races I...

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Examines successful judicial selection reform efforts in six states, discussing...

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Texas is one of only two states with two courts of last resort--the supreme court, which hears only civil matters, and the court of criminal appeals. The court of appeals is the state's intermediate appellate court, and the district court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Courts of limited jurisdiction include county, probate, municipal, and justice of the peace courts. When Texas became a state in 1845, judges were appointed by the governor with senate consent, but since 1876, judges at all levels of courts have been elected by the people in partisan elections.

In 1980, Texas became the first state in which the cost of a judicial race exceeded $1 million. Between 1980 and 1986, campaign contributions to candidates in contested appellate court races increased by 250%. The 1988 supreme court elections were the most expensive in Texas history, with twelve candidates for six seats raising $12 million. Between 1992 and 1997, the seven winning candidates for the Texas Supreme Court raised nearly $9.2 million dollars. Of this $9.2 million, more than 40% was contributed by parties or lawyers with cases before the court or by contributors linked to those parties.

To address the perceived impropriety of judges soliciting and accepting large campaign contributions from attorneys and parties who appear before them, the Texas legislature passed the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act in 1995. Under the act, limits on individual contributions to candidates in statewide races range from $5,000 from individual donors to $30,000 from law firms. While some commentators believe the law has been successful in curbing the excesses of the late 1980s and early 1990s, others assert that the contribution limits are too generous to have a meaningful effect. For more information about the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act, see Judicial Selection Reform: Examples from Six States.