Earlier this week Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht delivered his State of the Judiciary address in which he called for changes to judicial selection in the state. The Chief Justice noted in particular the pattern in Texas of sweep-elections resulting in judges losing office because of partisan politics.
In November, many good judges lost solely because voters in their districts preferred a presidential candidate in the other party. These kinds of partisan sweeps are common, with judicial candidates at the mercy of the top of the ticket…
There is no perfect alternative to judicial elections. But removing judges from straight-ticket voting would help some, and merit selection followed by nonpartisan retention elections would help more.
Shortly after the Chief Justice’s speech the Speaker of the House Joe Straus also called for an end to straight ticket voting for judges. In 2009, before becoming Speaker, Straus had filed a bill that would have ended straight ticket voting for all offices (HB 135). That same session then-state senator Dan Patrick, now Lt. Gov. and President of the Senate Dan Patrick, filed a bill to end straight ticket voting in judicial elections (SB 392).
There appear to be four options based on previous efforts made since 1993.
- End straight ticket voting for all courts: In 2015 session this came up as HB 25 and SB 1702. This year’s version of this plan has been filed as HB 433 of 2017.
- End straight ticket voting for all offices: For example the 2009 Straus bill (HB 135).
- End straight ticket voting for lower courts: HB 498 of 1993 would have ended straight ticket voting for lower level courts (Courts of Appeals, District Courts, County Courts, Justices of the Peace) but kept it for the state’s two courts of last resort (Supreme Court & Court of Criminal Appeals).
- End straight ticket voting for higher courts: HB 555 of 2001 would have ended straight ticket voting for all courts except Justices of the Peace.