Texpatriate endorses for the Texas Supreme Court

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).

PLACE 6
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.

PLACE 7
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.

PLACE 8
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.

Texpatriate endorses in Supreme Court primary

There will be four seats on the Texas Supreme Court up for election this year. In three of those seats, the Republican nomination will be contested, though all feature a GOP incumbent. Three Democrats will be running as well, though each faces no intra-party opposition in their respective contests. We endorse the incumbents in all three races. Though this board, admittedly, has some major issues with the way the Texas Supreme Court conducts business, we believe each Republican incumbent is a far better choice than the primary opponent.

CHIEF JUSTICE
 Nathan Hecht is a bit of a wild card, and we were definitely not all that thrilled about his ascent into the Chief Justice’s chair. An unabashed conservative, Hecht differs substantially from his predecessor –Wallace B. Jefferson– in style and pragmatism. From being excessively cozy with special interest and Conservative zealots to ongoing ethical quarrels, we have some serious doubts about Hecht’s tenure on the court. But no one could deny he is a remarkable jurist, as he continues to be the leading Justice on this powerful court.

Additionally, we find the choice between Hecht and Robert Talton to be unbelievably easy. Talton, a former State Representative, has graced Texas Monthly’s list of the worst before, and for good reason. He is a homophobic bigot, to say the least. Monthly called his obsessions extreme and said his agenda “makes the Patriot Act look like the Bill of Rights.” Indeed, he has not provided any specifics for this most recent campaign of his, and we are not impressed. Vote for Hecht.

Click here to read more!

Texpatriate’s Questions for Nathan Hecht

Editorial note: This is the ninth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates in contested primaries at both the Statewide level and throughout Harris County. We have sent eight open-ended questions to each of the candidates. The following are verbatim copies of the questions sent out and the answers received.

Nathan Hecht, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court

Texpatriate: What is your name?
NH: Nathan Hecht

Click here to read the full interview!

Statewide Judicial update

A couple months ago, I noted that all three seats on the Court of Criminal Appeals up for election in 2014 would be open, as every pertinent incumbent would be retiring. Similarly, with the elevation of Justice Nathan Hecht to the role of Chief Justice, his seat will hold a special election in 2014, meaning four of the seats on the Supreme Court will be up for election. However, it appears at press time that they will all include incumbents.

All these Supreme Court slots have no other candidates besides the incumbents. The three Court of Criminal Appeals slots, however, each respectively have two candidates. All aforementioned candidates are Republicans, and all signs suggest that the Democrats will not even contest most of these seats, as they have typically done in the past.

First things first, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who was just recently appointed to the position by Governor Perry, will run for re-election for the Chief slot (Position #1). He is hitherto unopposed. Justices Jeffrey Boyd and Phil Johnson will also run for re-election for Positions 7 and 8, respectively. Justice Jeff Brown, a former Houston Appeals Court Judge who was recently appointed by Governor Perry to replace Hecht’s associate justice seat, will run for re-election to Position 6.

Click here to read about the candidates for the Court of Criminal Appeals!

Brown to replace Hecht on Supreme Court

In an odd piece of news that the Texas Tribune did not seem to cover, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Governor Perry has tapped Jeff Brown, a Justice on the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston, to the Texas Supreme Court. Brown will replace Justice Nathan Hecht, who Perry recently selected as the new Chief Justice of the court. The shakeup first started a good number of weeks ago, when Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson announced he would step down effective October 1st. Hecht will replace him at that time, making his seat open then as well. It is unclear when Brown will take the new job.

As this “trickle-down judiciary” continues, all eyes will be upon who Governor Perry chooses to replace Brown on the 14th Court of Appeals. The astute will remember that I did not support Jeff Brown the last time his name came up for election.

This pick solidifies the fact that the Texas Supreme Court will become even more conservative now. While Hecht and Brown are somewhat ideologically similar, one was hoping that a more pragmatic pick would be made by Perry to offset the increased conservatism coming to the Chief Justice’s seat. Jefferson was far more bipartisan and overall reasonable than his successor will be.

Brown did previously run for the Supreme Court in 2010, coming in a distant spot within the Republican primary. Hecht must run again in 2014.

Undervaluing Public Service

As Noah M. Horwitz already reported a few days ago, Governor Rick Perry tapped Associate Justice Nathan Hecht as his pick for Wallace Jefferson’s replacement as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.  Hecht will serve until the next election, at which point he intends to run for a full term.  Chief Justice Jefferson has indicated that he will not run for another elected office, but will rather seek employment in the private sector.

Jefferson pushed hard during his term for an increase in judges’ salaries, an argument met with a moderate amount of approval with lawmakers increasing judicial salaries by 12% this year.  While these salary increases are a great improvement, the low salaries of judges serve as a highly visible indication of how little our society values the vital work our judges perform – much like the pitifully low salaries of teachers.  A judge can make significantly more in the private sector, a factor Jefferson himself said influenced his decision to resign.

It is a sad state of affairs to see that we, as a society, generally do not value public servants.  Teachers, judges, firemen, police officers and other public servants are frequently forced to choose between taking a lower paying job that makes our society a better, safer place and making a living for themselves in the private sector.  Although these individuals still receive some compensation for their invaluable service, it is a shame that they are still underpaid for their service to society.

Chief Justice Hecht

The Dallas Morning News reports that Nathan Hecht, the longest serving Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, has been nominated by Governor Rick Perry to become the 27th Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

The vacancy arose exactly one week ago, when incumbent Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson announced his intent to leave the bench by the end of the month. Jefferson did this so that he may enter private practice and earn a higher income. Although Justices on the Texas Supreme Court are elected to six year terms, if a vacancy arises mid-term, the Governor appoints a replacement–without the advise and consent of the State Legislature.

Hecht will serve until the next regularly scheduled election for Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice, November 2014. Courtesy of Ross Ramsey at the Texas Tribune, we already know that Hecht intends to go for the longhaul and seek another term at that point.

Only the third-ever Republican Chief Justice, Hecht will be sure to be the most conservative to ever hold the job. Hecht is currently the longest serving current Justice on the court, holding his position as an Associate Justice since 1989. Before Hecht’s election to the court, the Court was controlled by a 9-0 Democratic composition, a sharp contradiction from the 9-0 Republicans composition that has cursed our State since 1999. Hecht is seen as a hyperconservative, in stark contrast to his predecessor, and as such gained the praise of Greg Abbott on the campaign trail.

Perhaps most troubling about Hecht, however, is his ethical problems. Barely 10 days ago, the San Antonio Express-News published a lengthy article detailing some of Hecht’s issues in recent years pertaining to his abuse of office and campaign finance violations.

First, back in 2005, when President Bush nominate Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, Hecht talked her up a lot. It seems the two are former lovers. No seriously. In fact, even though they went their separate ways eventually, neither has ever married, leaving an open question about how close the duo continue to be.

Anyways, the many interviews Hecht gave defending and talking up Miers’ nomination was seen as a big abuse of power for many. The over 120 interviews Hecht gave, raised some red flags.

In 2006, Hecht was admonished for this abuse of office by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct (the admonition was later overturned). Further, the commissioned fined the Justice $29,000 in 2009 after they deemed he improperly fought the admonition with campaign funds.

All of these issues will be sure to come up in the next few days as more and more people are reintroduced to Hecht. For Perry’s part, the Governor now must appoint a second individual to fill Hecht’s old seat on the Supreme Court.