One of those candidates is Justice Evan Young, an appointee of Gov. Greg Abbott who replaced former Justice Eva Guzman after she resigned her spot on the court to run for attorney general.
Young’s opponent in the Republican primary, Fifth District Court of Appeals Justice David Schenck, was the chief legal counsel to Abbott when the governor was attorney general.
In a recent opinion piece published by The Dallas Morning News, Schenck told writer Dave Lieber that he believes laws governing campaign contributions in judicial elections should be changed.
Schenck pointed to research by a team assembled by investment manager Salem Abraham, who became curious after a lawyer representing an oil company he sued accurately and confidently predicted the Supreme Court would rule in the oil company’s favor despite losing in the lower courts.
The findings suggested that campaign donations by large law firms in Texas improve the likelihood that the Supreme Court will hear cases, and even influence the outcome of those cases, as opposed to appeals brought by citizens represented by less prominent firms.
Abraham describes the project on his site, Texans for Cash Free Courts.
However, when contacted by Lieber, Young’s campaign pointed out that Schenck has himself accepted campaign contributions from law firms. This time around, Schenck has pledged not to accept contributions from larger firms.
Texas law allows law firms and their political action committees to contribute to the campaigns of judges who may be the ones to decide cases affecting their clients.
The Texas Ethics Commission describes the campaign contribution limits on “law firm groups” as “somewhat complicated.”
Within the framework and definitions provided by the commission, campaign contributions are limited to $30,000 for statewide judicial candidates and, in counties with more than one million residents, candidates for courts of appeals, district courts, statutory county courts, and statutory probate courts.
Contributions are limited to $15,000 for judicial offices in counties with less than a million but more than a quarter-million people, and limited to $6,000 in counties with fewer than a quarter-million people.
In April 2019, even Abbott tweeted in response to an op-ed by former Chief Justice Thomas Phillips, “Commentary: Judicial selection reforms are long overdue in Texas. Every living current or former Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court supports this reform. The only constituency of judges is the rule of law.”
As Phillips pointed out in his piece, Texas is one of only a handful of states that selects Supreme Court justices strictly via partisan elections. In many other states, judges are appointed by the governor or there is some combination of election and appointment. Some states utilize judicial selection boards and retention elections.
Judge Julia Maldonado, a Democrat on the 507th District Court in Harris County, is also vying for Young’s seat.
Republican Supreme Court Justices Debra Lehrmann and Rebeca Huddle have no primary opponents.
Justice Amanda Reichek, a Democrat on the Fifth District Court of Appeals, is running for Huddle’s seat in the general election. Another Democrat on the same court of appeals, Justice Erin Nowell, is running for Lehrmann’s seat on the high court.
The remaining justices on the Supreme Court are not up for reelection as their six-year terms are not set to expire this year.
The Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort for civil cases and juvenile discipline. Criminal cases, including ones in which a prisoner has been sentenced to death, are appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Primary day is Tuesday, March 1.
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Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."