In the Legislature: An Exclusive Jurisdiction Executive Branch Appeals Court? | Texas Lawyer
A Texas state senator wants to create a statewide intermediary appellate court with exclusive jurisdiction over most legal matters affecting the executivebranch.
The proposal would create the only intermediary appeals court with statewide jurisdiction and its justices would be elected statewide, which would give the Republican Party dominance over which future candidates would be seated.
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, introduced Senate Bill 1045 in February, and it was referred to the Senate Jurisprudence Committee on March 3.
Huffman is a former two-term criminal district court judge and prior to that, practiced law as a prosecutor for Harris County.
The Fifteenth District Court of Appeals, as it would be known if passed, would be based in Austin.
‘Judges Who Are Accountable to Voters Statewide’
The Third District Court of Appeals, which is in the state capital, has typically taken the majority of civil suits where one party is a state agency or state university or an employee of the state.
However, Austin is a progressive urban city and has justices with Democratic Party affiliations.
“Local cases deserve to be heard by local judges, but cases with statewide implications—like those involving the state or state agencies—deserve to be heard by judges who are accountable to voters statewide,” Huffman said when she introduced SB 1045.
“The new Fifteenth Court of Appeals will help equalize dockets on our existing appellate courts and allow judges to apply specialized precedent in complex subjects like administrative and constitutional law, while giving Texas voters oversight of a court that handles critical matters for the entire state,” Huffman said.
Proposed Court Composition
The Fifteenth District would consist of a chief justice and four justices.
Rep. Andrew S. Murr, R-Kerrville, acting as a co-sponsor, filed House Bill 3166, which is identical. That bill is in the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee.
In another related action, Murr filed House Joint Resolution 139, a temporary provision to the Texas Constitution that would go before the voters on Nov. 7, 2023 to elect the chief justice and justices.
The joint resolution defines the initial terms of office, with all terms beginning Jan. 1, 2025.
The chief justice and the Place 3 justice would start with six-year terms.
The Place 2 and Place 4 justices would have four-year terms, and the Place 5 justice would have a two-year term.
Although the bills claim the court would have exclusive jurisdiction of executive branch-related lawsuits, they list many exceptions.
For instance, it would except proceedings brought under the Family Code, certain sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Government, Labor and Local Government codes, and the Health and Safety Code.
It also states exceptions for “matters in which a party to the proceeding files a petition, motion, or other pleading challenging the constitutionality or validity of a state statute or rule and the attorney general is a party to the case.”
The bill also prohibits the Texas Supreme Court from transferring cases or proceedings properly filed in the Fifteenth District to another court of appeals for purposes of equalizing the dockets of the courts of appeals. Equalization is a case management tool of the supreme court.
Finally, the bill would also prohibit the supreme court from transferring case into the Fifteenth District for which it does not have exclusive jurisdiction.