A group of lawyers and consumer advocates -- including Texans for Public Justice -- has filed a federal lawsuit claiming Texas’ system of electing judges is unconstitutional. The lawsuit argues that campaign donations by lawyers and parties with cases pending before the court violate the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial. Plaintiffs have asked the court to stop all judicial elections in Texas starting in 2001. The lawsuit cited a 1998 survey by the state bar of Texas and the Texas Supreme Court showing that only one percent of Texas attorneys said they believed campaign contributions had no influence on judicial decisions. Possible remedies to Texas’ judicial election system include a switch to publicly financed campaigns or a strict recusal law for judges hearing cases in which any of the parties have made contributions to their campaign. Russell Gold, Lawsuit Targets Judges’ Election, San Antonio Express-News, April 3, 2000.
Editorial asserts that the federal lawsuit seeking to end the way in which judicial elections are conducted in Texas “may force lawmakers to find the political will to do what hasn’t been done thus far -- seriously discuss the state’s judicial selection process.” According to the editorial, Texas legislators have continually sidestepped the controversial issue of judicial elections in Texas. Although the editorial argues that “public policy through litigation does not top anyone’s list…as the desired way to effect change,” it concludes that “It may be what finally gets [legislators] to look at the perverted system of judicial selection in Texas.” In Court, Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, TX), April 5, 2000.
Editorial applauds a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ judicial elections, stating, “[The lawsuit] may or may not be successful, but at least it calls attention to the state’s deeply flawed system.” Dismissive of critics who argue that reforms should be made by the state legislature -- and not the courts -- the editorial states, “reformers attempt to change the system practically every legislative sessions and lawmakers are unable to get the job done.” Judicial Elections Face Well-Deserved Attack, San Antonio Express-News, April 7, 2000.
Op-ed discusses the recent federal lawsuit brought by Public Citizen and the Gray Panthers against the Texas judicial election system. The op-ed argues that even if the plaintiffs prevail, “change still will be difficult, not only because of monied interests that try to benefit from the present system but also because of deep- seated differences that have been blocking change in the legislature for years.” According to the editorial, the Republican Party, which now controls many of the state courts, has a large incentive to fight change. In addition, some controversy exists over the best method to ensure that minorities are adequately represented on the bench. Finally, “any attempt to create a new system would face…everyday Texans, who would have the final say because a new plan would require an amendment to the state constitution.” Texas polls indicate that a large majority of Texans support judicial elections. Clay Robison, No Easy Way to Change Judicial Selection, Hous. Chron., April 9, 2000.