A Vacancy on the Court
Last week, Texas Supreme Court Justice Paul Green announced that he will retire from the bench in August, after serving 15 years on the state’s high court. Green is an exceptional jurist and second in seniority on the Texas Supreme Court.
Green’s extensive background in litigation as an attorney and judge have been critical assets to the Texas Supreme Court. He practiced law for nearly 20 years before serving on the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio for 10 years.
While Green’s retirement will certainly be a loss to the court, we are confident Gov. Abbott will appoint a successor who is highly qualified and has the experience and temperament necessary to serve on the state’s high court. We are certain of this because Gov. Abbott’s track record of court appointments is excellent, including his recent appointments of Justices Jane Bland and Brett Busby.
In fact, Texas governors from both sides of the aisle have appointed some of our state’s most qualified and dynamic judges, from former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justices Wallace Jefferson and Tom Phillips to Justices Eva Guzman and Raul Gonzalez. In addition to being fine jurists, Jefferson, Gonzalez and Guzman were historic appointments—Jefferson was our state’s first African American chief justice, Gonzalez was the first Latino to serve on the high court, and Guzman was the first Latina justice on the court.
Texas’ judicial appointment process requires the governor’s appointees to go through confirmation in the Texas Senate and then face voters in the next general election. These critical steps ensure the governor and his or her appointee are accountable to both the Texas Legislature and Texas voters.
That kind of accountability is also the foundation of the Texas Plan for judicial selection proposed to the Judicial Selection Commission by TLR and the Texas Civil Justice League. The Texas Plan seeks to diminish the role of partisan politics from the process of selecting judges in Texas. As we have highlighted, Texas is one of only six states that continues to use partisan elections to select all of its judges. This has resulted in regular partisan sweeps, where all of the judges of one party are swept out of office based on their political affiliation alone rather than their performance or qualifications.
To build upon the existing appointment process, the Texas Plan includes an additional safeguard—the requirement that a bipartisan citizens’ panel rank the governor’s appointee as “highly qualified,” “qualified” or “unqualified.” This information would help further inform legislators and voters of the quality of the governor’s appointee as they cast their votes.
Texas judges matter. The decisions they make every day impact some of the most critical issues in our state, from the economy to public safety to our children’s education. Our state needs a judicial selection system that focuses on qualifications and experience, as the Texas Plan does. Our legal system is too important to leave these decisions to partisan political whims.