February 12, 2014

For Texas Supreme Court
Voters in the Republican Party primary should choose experience in Supreme Court races.

Texas’ judicial system has the interesting quirk of containing two different courts of last resort: a Supreme Courtfor civil law and a Court of Criminal Appeals for criminal law.

The nine-member Texas Supreme Court in Austin is our state’s final word on issues of law and procedure, and voters should carefully select justices who have the experience, intelligence and temperament to take the long view on legal matters. But it isn’t as simple as choosing between two candidates.

One of the biggest challenges that faces our elected Supreme Court is when turnover slows down the docket to the point that people have to wait years for a decision. Voters should grant incumbency a heavy weight not only because of the experience that justices accrue, but also because the disruption to the court has consequences down the line. In that sense, these high-level judicial races are both a referendum on the incumbent and a choice between two candidates.

With that standard, we encourage voters in the Republican Party primary to keep their incumbent candidates: Jeff Brown for Place 6, Phil Johnson for Place 8 and Nathan Hecht for chief justice.

Texas Supreme Court, Place 6

Jeff Brown, 43, has earned a reputation as a thoughtful, fair and clear-thinking judge. His wide-ranging credentials are impressive: Before his September appointment to the Supreme Court, he’d been a judge at both the 14th Court of Appeals and state district court in Harris County; had tried cases as a lawyer at Baker Botts; and had served as a briefing attorney to judges from both political parties in the Texas Supreme Court.

In the Texas Bar Polls, he’s been consistently rated as one of the top jurists in the state. He is significantly better qualified than his primary opponent, Joe Pool, who is running in reaction to the Supreme Court of Texas overturning jury decisions – a well-intentioned but quixotic crusade that seems far too influenced by Pool’s own personal experiences in court.

Texas Supreme Court, Place 8

Phil Johnson, 69, has a broad base of experience and steady judicial temperament that fits his position perfectly. A graduate of the Texas Tech University School of Law, Johnson was elected to the Seventh Court of Appeals in 1998 and became its chief justice in 2002.

He served in that position until Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to the Supreme Court in 2005.

Johnson’s challenger, Sharon McCally, serves on the 14th Court of Appeals and is a highly qualified justice with a passion for legal argument. She doesn’t hesitate to criticize the current Supreme Court, and her challenges to some decisions land serious blows.

But a judicial recall should be based on more than disagreement in a few cases. Justice Phil Johnson is the right choice and deserves another term as Republican candidate for the court.

Texas Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Justice Nathan Hecht is the longest serving justice in the history of the Texas Supreme Court. Voters in the Republican primary should help him extend that record. A veteran of 25 years on our highest civil court, Hecht serves as the institutional memory.

He can point to the court’s accomplishments of electronic filing and quicker dockets, but also the challenges of a judicial system that is increasingly out of reach for middle class families. Reflective and focused, Hecht, 64, was a philosophy major at Yale University before receiving his law degree at Southern Methodist University. He has worked as a district court judge and as a justice on the Fifth Court of Appeals. Hecht brings decades of experience to the court.

His opponent in the primary, former state Rep. Robert Talton, only brings a history of political posturing that Texans should want to keep far away from our judicial system.

Primary voters should feel proud to cast their ballots for a candidate as qualified as Hecht.

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