Texas: Chief Justice and House Speaker call for end of straight-ticket voting for judicial races, Lt. Gov. previously sponsored bill – what could legislation look like?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. End straight ticket voting for all offices: For example the 2009 Straus bill (HB 135).
  3. 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).
  4. 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.

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “Texas: Chief Justice and House Speaker call for end of straight-ticket voting for judicial races, Lt. Gov. previously sponsored bill – what could legislation look like?”

  1. There is another alternative: don’t change the present system. It isn’t broken, it’s only pushing out Texas’ elite clique of judges and their legislative buddies are trying to help them. Will probably succeed, but it is still wrong. When you’re elected, you’re political. Live with it.

  2. The real problem in voting for judges is the lack information. I live in Houston, and the Chronicle regularly rates the candidates. But it is a leftist-oriented newspaper, and I am somewhat lief to accept their evaluation without question. The local bar rates the judges, but I suspect the leftist tilt to the plaintiff’s bar might color their judgment.
    I tend to lean toward a system of judicial appointment by the governor, with periodic elections of approval or non-. Even that is not free of difficulty.

  3. Living in rural West Texas, I rarely if ever see any kind of advertisements or campaign materials for judges. Quite often the first time I encounter their name is when I see it on the ballot. Not knowing anything about these folks, if I vote at all in that particular race, I vote for the party affiliation I prefer. None of these bills would fix that tendency.

  4. Yeah, Straus’ support is a good sign the bill is bad. How many people can track a judge’s behavior? Party affiliation at least offers a form of branding, suggesting how a judge might rule (like not pretending the Constitution forbids blocking immigration from certain countries).

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