At a recent judicial panel at the Texas Tribune Festival featuring seven incumbent Justices, many on the court lamented the shifts that have occurred in the high court in the last quarter-century. Ostensibly, the nine justices –all Republican– serve as the court of last resort for all non-criminal cases (including, strange as it may sound, juvenile criminal cases). Nearly in unison, the justices seemingly bemoaned the transition the court has faced from an arbiter of common law to merely an interpreter of statutes and a State Constitution that is absurdly long and still growing.
And while the court’s docket has been steadily shrinking, there are still some high-profile issues that have been left pending; chief among them, the rights of gays and lesbians. Specifically, a pair of cases regarding the ability of same-sex couples to divorce within the State. There is also a case, sure to reach the court one day, regarding the constitutionality of Texas’ amendment against such same-sex marriages and “similar unions.” For those and other cases, this board simply believes that Texas’ highest court should be composed of advocates for equality between the sexual orientations. For these reasons, we have simply felt more comfortable with the Democratic candidates. However, we still have concerns about experience and the like from Justices and prospective Justices on this most important court.
Regarding the four elections up this year on the Texas Supreme Court, we endorsed two Democrats and two Republicans.
PLACE 1 (CHIEF)
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has honorably served on the Court longer than any other justice. About a year ago, Governor Rick Perry elevated him to the Chief Justiceship, the culmination of a long and noble career. Most scholars on the court agree that he is arguably the intellectual leader, especially of the more conservative clique.
But Hecht is not without his weaknesses. In years past, he was admonished and fined by the Texas Ethics Commission for impropriety regarding using his office for personal purposes. He also tacks heavily to the right on many of those aforementioned important social issues.
For these reasons, we cautiously will support the Democratic candidate, Bill Moody. A State District Judge out of El Paso County, Moody has a history seeking high offices, including a seat on the Supreme Court once before. He espouses an inclusive view of the constitution, one that sees the document as a living creature subject to evolving standards of decency, rather than a strict originality view. Such philosophies lend themselves to a more inclusive idea of who should be covered by the equal protection clause of the constitution, such as gays & lesbians. Still, we have some doubts as to Moody’s need for “on the job training,” so to speak, upon assuming the office of Chief Justice. Still, we think he would be a welcome change of pace.
Accordingly, this board endorses Bill Moody for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 1 (Chief).
Justice Jeff Brown is the newest member of the court. Appointed last year by Governor Rick Perry, he previously served as a member of the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. Without a doubt, he is a more than capable jurist who has the experience needed to be an effective member of the court. However, like Hecht, we have some major disagreements with Brown on contentious legal disputes, particularly those involving the expansion of equal protection rights. That being said, we have some hope that Brown is more level-headed on certain disputes than some of his colleagues. He cut his teeth in the law as a clerk for former Justice Jack Hightower, one of the last great Democrats on the court.
Though despite our qualms with Brown, we think he is night-and-day better than his opponent. The Democratic candidate, Larry Meyers, has served on the Court of Criminal Appeals since 1992…as a Republican. In a rather strange turn of events last year, he switched parties right at the filing deadline in order to run for this post. We have absolutely no problem with party-switching; in fact, with good reason, we actively encourage it. But Meyers has been a ghost since his filing. He didn’t make a statement then, nor throughout the primary, nor throughout the general election. He boycotted the State Democratic Convention and has been a no-show at newspaper editorial screenings. And Meyers was no reliable liberal –or even moderate– voice on the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Thus, we have no idea why Meyers is running or what he stands for, and –judging by his record– we don’t think he would improve upon Brown’s record. Therefore, we will defer to the incumbent, albeit reluctantly.
Accordingly, this board endorses Jeff Brown for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 6.
Justice Jeff Boyd was appointed by Governor Rick Perry in 2012 and now will be seeking his first full term on the court. We think he has been a reasonable jurist but, like the other incumbent justices, we have some similar concerns regarding his opinions on constitutional interpretations. Much like his colleagues, we are naturally skeptical of his ability to extend basic civil rights to gays and lesbians.
Boyd’s Democratic opponent, meanwhile, not only has a much more ideal philosophy, she is tremendously experienced. Gina Benavides, a Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals (Corpus Christi), has served in an appellate position for more than eight years. Previously, she had a long and illustrious career within private practice. Unlike the other Democratic candidates, Benavides has been very detailed platform and online presence. She has also been a persistent force campaigning throughout the State. Unlike others, we are totally sure that Benavides will not need any “on the job training,” so to speak, if she wins office. She would make a capable, more and qualified Justice, a great addition to the court.
Accordingly, this board endorses Gina Benavides for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 7.
Justice Phil Johnson, first appointed by Governor Rick Perry to the court about nine years, will be seeking his second full term on the court. He is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War and longtime veteran of the Court of Appeals in Houston. Beyond dispute, he is a very qualified and experienced Judge. Though, and not to sound like a broken record here, we have some of the same qualms with Johnson as we do with the other justices; namely, that he has an originality view of many constitutional issues and opposes extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians.
But Johnson’s only opponents, Libertarian RS Koelsch and Green Jim Chisholm, are spectacularly unqualified for this high office. They have little political credentials, and even fewer judicial ones. Simply put, they are unfit for the post they seek. Johnson, despite political disagreements, is indisputably qualified and capable to hold this position. We think he is a much better choice than his competitors.
Accordingly, this board endorses Phil Johnson for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 8.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.