Texas chief judge laments judicial turnover driven by ‘partisan politics’

February 6, 2019

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht called on the Legislature to do away with the state’s current system of electing judges in partisan races during his State of the Judiciary Address on Wednesday.

“No method of judicial selection is perfect,” Hecht told the joint session of the House and Senate. “Still, partisan elections is among the very worst methods.”

Texas is one of a handful of states that requires judges to declare a political party in elections. Hecht called for that system to be cast aside in favor of nonpartisan races in which candidates would not be required to have party affiliation.

During the 2018 midterm elections, more than 400 Democratic judges unseated incumbents around the state as turnout surged and a majority of voters opted for the “straight-ticket” voting option. Hecht, a Republican, lamented the election results, saying Texas lost “seven centuries” of judicial experience in the election.

“When partisan politics is the driving force, and the political climate is as harsh as ours has become, judicial elections make judges more political, and judicial independence is the casualty,” Hecht said.

The system of straight-ticket voting, which allows voters to quickly choose all the Republican or Democratic candidates on their ballot, is in the process of being phased out by 2020. He also endorsed two bills that would require greater qualifications for someone to become a judge.

“Qualifications did not drive their election,” Hecht said of the hundreds of new judges. “Partisan politics did.”

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