Friday, January 10, 2020

Should Texas switch to non-partisan judicial elections?

The Texas Judicial Selection Commission, created by the Legislature last year, says Lone-Star-State judges should be selected in non-partisan elections. The immediate concern is that experienced judges are being ousted by less experienced ones in partisan sweeps, leaving the state's judiciary bifurcated along party lines. With the state's larger counties and some appellate seats turning blue, the state's high courts and most appellate bodies are still controlled by Republicans.

Maybe it's true Texas is losing experienced judges. OTOH, for example, a partisan sweep enabled Harris County to settle its bail litigation, which the old judges had dragged out for years, spending many millions on unnecessary legal fees to oppose bail reform. Certainly, Harris County courts gained more diversity in 2018. And some of those ousted judges allegedly had suborned misconduct among the magistrate judges. So I'm not sure that particular round of turnover was something we really to truly lament.

And how many judges are we really talking about here? According to this chart from the commission's report, 19% of judicial races turned over in 2018.

Much of that volume was due to Harris County (plus Fort Bend and a handful of others); those seats likely won't turnover as much in the future. So there will be momentary upticks in judicial departures as various jurisdictions flip from red to blue, then the incumbent advantage will likely continue to hold going forward. In the meantime, let's keep in mind that 81 percent of appellate and district judges held onto their seats in 2018, so it's not exactly like the barn's on fire and all the experienced judges fled!

Also worth mentioning: Fewer than half of those who left the bench in 2018 lost an election; many left on their own or hit mandatory retirement.

Grits doesn't necessarily disdain non-partisan elections. In a vacuum, they're a better idea than partisan ones. Make Grits Philosopher King and I'd probably prefer some sort of nonpartisan nominating commission. So I consider non-partisan elections a step in the right direction.

But this isn't happening in a vacuum. It's being suggested to stave off future partisan transitions in urban counties like we witnessed in 2018. That doesn't make it a bad idea. But since Democratic judges have been more supportive of bail reform, in particular, the move could slow progress in that arena.

In the end, Grits would probably support non-partisan elections just to get Court of Criminal Appeals races out of the Republican primary sooner than later. But the timing of the suggestion is another reminder that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.


Gadfly said...

First newspaper where I was an editor was in New Mexico, also where I grew up. The retention election system does have some advantages. But, it's not perfect.

Anonymous said...

My biggest complaint about the current system is with the media. In El Paso, the media refuses to name judges. As an example, "on Thursday, the court reduced the bond for (name of the defendant). (Name of the defendant) was arrested last month for DWI that caused the death of (name of family of four). In El Paso this is consistent across print, TV and radio. How in a state that elects judges, regardless of party, does this help the voter?

Gunny Thompson said...

From Unfiltered Minds of Independent Thinkers of the 3rd Grade Dropout Section:

My question: Why now are there questions concerning fairness in judicial selections??!!

In my excess of nearly forty-years involvement in judicial proceedings, the party labeled: Blue, Red or Green, is a non-issue, often the results have most always projected subjective or similar bias in its rulings.

Changing the name of a Rattlesnake to that of A Grass snake does not prevent its ability to cause harm by its bite. Many judges, state and federal, are appointed. Their appointments are restricted, prohibiting qualifying for an elected position. Examples: Abbott, et al, and in violation of the 11th Amendments, state judges are often appointed to federal positions and are complicit with state officials in maintaining power in a Racist, Fascist Regime and rulings that are in effect of protecting the offending official through use of “Immunity” which is cut out of whole cloth with no Constitional protection.

My solution: For a start, abolish the current party system and the Black Box flawed Electoral System