Texas: House approves 133-2 constitutional amendment to alter qualifications for judicial office; efforts to extend terms and give legislature power to set additional qualifications stricken

Last week the Texas House overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to change the qualifications for the state’s top courts.

Under HJR 10 of 2017 as amended and approved by the House:

Appellate Courts: HJR 10 requires

  • 10 years of service as a judge of a state court or county court created by the Legislature (previously “court of record”) or
  • 10 years as a practicing lawyer licensed in Texas.
  • Some combination of the above adding up to 10 years.
  • During the 10-year span(s), the person’s license to practice law cannot have been revoked, suspended, or subject to a probated suspension.

There was a requirement that the 10 years of service be “consecutive”, however that was amended out on the House floor.

Although addressing only the Supreme Court, other provisions in the state’s constitution provide that judges and chief/presiding judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals (Art. V, Sec. 4) and the Court of Appeals must have the “same qualifications” as their Supreme Court counterparts (Art. V, Sec. 6).

District Court:

  • 6 years (up from 4 years) of service as a judge of a court in the state or
  • 6 years (up from 4 years) as a practicing lawyer licensed in Texas.
  • Some combination of the above adding up to 6 years (up from 4 years).
  • During the 6-year span(s), the person’s license to practice law cannot have been revoked, suspended, or subject to a probated suspension.

New Legislative Power to Add Qualifications: The plan as approved by the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee provided the Legislature could by general law require additional qualifications to be eligible to serve as an appellate or District Court judge. Oklahoma has a similar provision in their constitution, discussed here. A floor amendment to HJR 10 removed that provision from the bill.

Increase in Terms: HJR 10 as introduced would also have extended the terms for the courts, with the appellate courts going from 6 years to 8 years and the District Courts from 4 years to 6 years. Those provisions were removed in committee.

 

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