A new report by Texans for Public Justice finds that “the more money you give to a [Texas Supreme Court] justice’s election campaign, the more likely the Texas Supreme Court will agree to hear your case.” The report, “Pay to Play,” found that Justices were four times more likely to accept appeals from campaign contributors than from noncontributors. Craig McDonald, director of the group, asserts: “Clearly, the members of this court are politicians first, jurists, perhaps, second, in our opinion.” Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips disagreed: “their own figures indicate that many of the law firms with the greatest success in getting cases heard have given little or nothing to Supreme Court campaigns.” The full report is available at www.tpj.org. Bruce Hight, Contributions Buy Access to Court, Group Says, Austin American-Statesman, April 25, 2001.
Column calls on Texans to recognize that “Texas judges are politicians because we ask them to be.” He asserts that while “the Texas judiciary is by and large filled with good people who are serious about their responsibilities,” “Texans refuse to relinquish their votes in judicial elections” and judicial elections require the state’s jurists to be politicians. He applauds efforts in the Legislature to create an appointive system and to make judicial elections nonpartisan and publicly funded but is skeptical of the chances of success: “Real change always meets a wall of resistance. . . . The same special interests that contribute to judicial races would be digging in their pockets to weigh in.” Arnold Garcia, Shocked, Shocked to Learn Judges are Politicians, Austin American-Statesman, April 28, 2001.
Editorial finds that a recent report by Texans for Public Justice prompts the question “Is justice for sale in Texas?” The report, “Pay to Play,” found that the largest campaign contributors to state Supreme Court justices were four times more likely to have a case accepted for review than non-contributors. (See Court Pester, April 26.) The editorial endorses a state Senate proposal for a constitutional amendment allowing gubernatorial appointment of appellate judges: “Were it to become law, [the] amendment would remove millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the judicial selection process and go a long way toward restoring the tattered reputation of Texas courts.” Take the Price Tag of Texas Justice, Austin American-Statesman, April 30, 2001.
Op-ed by Gene Nichol, Dean of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Law, calls for judicial appointments for appellate judgeships. Nichol asserts that due to voter ignorance, voters are unable to make informed choices in judicial races: “even a blind hog occasionally finds an acorn. But starkly uninformed decision-making has little to commend itself.” Although restrictions on judicial speech contribute to this problem, Nichol contends that the alternative is worse, citing the example of a Texas judicial candidate who vowed to never reverse a capital murder case and “in over 200 decisions, . . . has kept her word.”