On the Election of Judges

In the March 4th primary election, there are a lot of candidates about whom the public has been made aware. With candidate ads, attack ads, and endorsements, the battle lines are drawn. In Texas, this is principally within the Republican Party, because the Democrats have enough trouble finding a single candidate for each statewide office.

There are candidates for Governor, Lt Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, Agriculture Commissioner, and Land Commissioner, all promising that they will stop Obamacare,  throw out all the undocumented immigrants, and above all that they are the most devout Christian in the field. All well and good.

But further down the ballot, past any State Rep and State Senate races, are the judicial offices. I’m not talking about the local trial judges that are members of the local community or at least from the local area. I mean the appellate judges, from the fourteen Courts of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest criminal appellate court in Texas) and the Texas Supreme Court (which only hears civil cases). Other than a handful of lawyers, no one knows who these people are. And if you asked half of the voters what the difference is between these courts, you would no doubt get a blank look. Half those who respond would get it wrong.

On top of this, on any issue with which any rank-and-file Republican is concerned, these judges – at whatever level – would be likely to rule identically. In any area of judicial philosophy that anyone other than a lawyer would understand, there is nothing by which to distinguish them. The best they can do is schmooze the right Tea Party activist into believing they are somehow different and try to get support that way.

This is the primary argument for appointed appellate judges at all levels. I don’t mind retention elections every so many years as they have in 20 other states. If you have someone who has done something to raise the ire of the electorate, either in their personal or judicial behavior, let them go.

But to have Joe Sixpack deciding who is going to best deal with the finer points of statutory interpretation, judicial precedent, and the proper application of the Rules of Evidence (amongst so many other things) is patently ridiculous. People elect governors who reflect their political views. Governors can appoint advisers on judicial appointments who will ensure that appellate judges are competent and reflect their political and judicial philosophies.

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