election of judges in and of itself is not a bad idea,” too often, “well-meaning voters go to the polls where they rely [only] on familiar-sounding names, gender, personal stereotypes, and (above all) party affiliation.” He concludes by supporting state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips’ call for reform: “there is no better public service that [lawyers] as a profession can do than change this judicial election system with urgency.” Claude DuCloux , Is This Any Way for Texans to Elect our Judges?, Austin-American Statesman, February 23, 2001.
Op-ed by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips excerpts his recent State of the Judiciary address. Chief Justice Phillips charges: “the greatest systemic problem with Texas courts remains the way that judges are selected. The current system has long outlived its usefulness and dangerously impedes public respect for the administration of justice.” He laments that Texas’ judicial elections are characterized by voter ignorance and large campaign contributions by trial lawyers and prospective litigants. As avenues of reform, Chief Justice Phillips suggests: public funding of judicial elections, judicial campaign finance laws limiting contributions to unopposed candidates, voter information guides on the Internet, and allowing judicial candidates to seek the endorsement of more than one party, a suggestion that has been endorsed by the Texas Judicial Council. Thomas Phillips, Texas Needs to Change Selection System, Dallas Morning- News, March 4, 2001.
It also sees promise in Representative Pete Gallego’s (D.) proposals to establish nonpartisan elections, prohibit lawyers and law firms from making campaign contributions, and create a public financing system. The editorial concludes: “Justice should not even appear to be for sale in the state.”Editorial surveys proposals to improve Texas judicial elections. It endorses state Senator Robert Duncan’s (R.) proposal to have appellate judges and Supreme Court justices appointed by merit selection. Judicial Elections Need More Judgment, Dallas Morning News, March 28, 2001.
Letter by Joe Deshotel, Texas Representative (D.), endorses a House bill that would create non-partisan, publicly funded judicial elections. Even though Texas judges are “truly fine people,” the current system is problematic because “private contributions are incompatible with the need for the appearance of impartiality.” Texas currently has the highest judicial election contribution limits in the country
$15,000 per individual and $90,000 per law firm. Furthermore, judges need not recuse themselves from cases involving donors. While many in the Legislature support an appointive system, that would require a constitutional amendment, “a very high hurdle.” The public financing bill offers a more reasonable alternative. Candidates would qualify for public funds by securing 2500 contributions, ranging from $5 to $100. Parties would not be allowed to contribute. Then, all candidates would receive equal amounts to campaign. Joe Deshotel, Free for All, Dallas Morning News, April 15, 2001.