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.

Wallace Jefferson to resign

The Dallas Morning News reports that Wallace Jefferson, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, will resign effective October 1st. Chief Justice Jefferson, who has served in that position since 2004 and previously served as an Associate Justice from 2001 to 2004, cited financial difficulties that led to his resignation.

Supreme Court Chief Justices in this State earn $152,500.00 per year. Jefferson complained this was too low to maintain his lifestyle, including a child in college. Jefferson, who had been flirting with this idea for a little while, will probably start making seven-figures at a big-time law firm in either Austin, Dallas or Houston.

The Morning News article, which was reprinted from the Texas Lawbook, had a detailed biography on some of Jefferson’s greatest hits as Chief Justice. Despite being a Republican, Wallace had a reputation as more moderate when compared to some of his more extreme colleagues.

Legal experts say that Jefferson’s departure will have minimal impact on how cases are decided by the state’s highest court because he is viewed as a moderate on a bench packed with pro-business conservatives.

But those legal insiders say Jefferson’s resignation is a significant blow to those who advocate for improvements in the administration of justice.

During the past four years, Jefferson has worked with state legislators to increase legal aid assistance for the poor and middle class. He has also advocated innovative juvenile justice reforms designed to keep at-risk children in school and out of jail.

He also dramatically improved transparency of the court system in Texas. He pushed to make most court documents available to the public through the Internet. He also moved to put cameras in the state Supreme Court so that people could watch every oral argument.

“The civil justice system is simply unaffordable for the poor and middle class today,” he said Monday. “We implemented real reforms that have a direct and positive impact on people’s lives. I’m very proud of the court for that.”

Jefferson went on to discuss his pet-project of Judicial election reform, and lamented his failure in implementing that goal.

Jefferson said his biggest disappointment as chief justice was his inability to push through judicial selection reform, especially the elimination of electing judges through the partisan process.

“It is an irrational way of selecting judges,” he said. “Just because you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ by your name does not mean you are more qualified to be a judge.”

While Jefferson expressed doubt that judicial election reform is politically possible, he said, “Whether it will happen or not, it is still worth the fight.”

Jefferson’s replacement will be an appointee of Governor Perry, and that successor must stand for election in 2014 (when Jefferson’s term is normally up), if he or she chooses to do so. I have absolutely no clue who that appointee may be at this point.

The Austin American-Statesman has more.

Gay Divorce

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the Texas Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases pertaining to gay divorce. The astute will surely remember the infamous case out of Austin from 2011, where the 3rd Court of Appeals upheld a gay divorce. This conflicted with an earlier ruling that year from Dallas (the 5th Court of Appeals), which threw out a gay divorce.

Traditionally, Courts of Last Resort, such as the Supreme Court, takes cases when the lower courts are split on the question. This is precisely what has happened here. It is worth noting, however, that the three judge panel assigned to the Austin case was comprised of two Democrats and one Republican (though the panel unanimously reached its verdict). This is quite different from the Texas Supreme Court, which consists of nine Republicans and zero Democrats.

Oral arguments will be held on election day, November 5th. Though an opinion will not be rendered for months, it will be very apparently obvious what will happen thereafter.

The Court will uphold the 5th Court, and reverse the 3rd Court, in refusing to recognize the gay divorces. This is because the case will surely not fly under the radar, as it has attracted publicity from our Attorney General and even our wannabe Attorney General. When social conservative crusaders get involved, all logic goes out the window. Accordingly, it is most likely an exercise in futility for me to delineate the reasons why, in an ideal world, the 3rd Court is correct just using Texas law.

The Texas Constitution says one man + one woman, it is pretty clear about that. Therefore, State Courts that use state law may not do anything that circumvents that provision. That is why homophobic provisions such as this one are typically thrown out in Federal Court. Bearing all that in mind, the question now shifts not to gay marriage, but gay divorce. But the Constitution simply states that “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.” By granting a divorce, you do not perpetuate the marriage. The more gay divorces you grant, the fewer gay marriages are in effect.

The Dallas Voice has more.