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Three Nominees for U.S. Bench in Texas Win Senators’ Praise

United_States_Capitol_dome_daylightThree of President Obama’s nominees for the federal district courts in Texas were praised at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing by the state’s two Republican senators, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The three include U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman of San Antonio, who would become the state’s first openly gay federal judge if confirmed. The three individuals were selected by the White House in a deal earlier this year with the Texas senators.

Judicial vacancies in Texas have been described as at a “crisis point” (see Gavel Grab.) The nominees still must win approval by the committee and, if that occurs, from the full Senate. Read more

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Three Nominated for Federal Trial Bench in Texas

For the federal trial court in Texas, where judicial vacancies have been described at a “crisis point,” President Obama has nominated three individuals.  The Dallas Morning News said the White House had reached an apparent deal with the state’s Republican U.S. senators.

The  nominees are U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman of San Antonio, Texarkana lawyer Robert Schroeder III, and Sherman Magistrate Judge Amos Mazzant III. Pitman, if confirmed, would become the first openly gay federal judge in Texas.

“Any nominations are critically important, as Texas desperately needs to have as many of its nine district and two circuit vacancies filled,” Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, told the newspaper. “The judges are overwhelmed by crushing case loads and too few judicial resources.” Read more

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A New Push for ‘Dark Money’ Disclosure in Texas

All members of the House State Affairs Committee in Texas have signed a letter urging the Texas Ethics Commission to use its rule-making authority to adopt a “dark money” disclosure rule.

dark_money_email_image“We believe the public has a right to know who is spending money to influence elections — and that the integrity of our electorate depends on disclosure so that the electorate can be fully informed,” the letter said.

“We DO NOT support requiring disclosure of all donors to non-profit organizations. However, we believe that the commission can, under current law, require disclosure of donors and their contributions, if those contributions are used to make direct campaign expenditures as defined by the Election Code.” Read more

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Opinion: U.S. Judicial Vacancies in Texas at ‘Crisis Point’

Judicial-VacanciesWith eight U.S. district court judgeships vacant in Texas and two more vacancies coming, the ability of sitting federal judges to fulfill their constitutional responsibility is threatened and at “a crisis point,” retired U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson writes in an Austin American-Statesman op-ed.

There are a total of 52 trial court judgeships in the state. Sitting judges are working at a 120 percent capacity to handle their own heavy loads and those of others. With a potential vacancy rate of one out of every five judgeships, the courts are crippled, Judge Furgeson suggests:

“Imagine if the Dallas Mavericks or the San Antonio Spurs or the Houston Rockets played their games with only four players on the court. Things wouldn’t go well. Neither will things go well in our federal courts if these vacancies persist.” Read more

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Article Looks at Texas, Bad Judging, and Possible Reform

Texas State FlagFamily court Judge Denise Pratt of Texas, the subject of numerous complaints and an investigation by local prosecutors, resigned March 28 and suspended her campaign for re-election. Now some Texans are asking whether bad judges are merely a fact of life in a state with partisan judicial elections.

The state’s partisan election system “results in qualified and unqualified candidates getting swept in and out with political cycles,” a Houston Chronicle article said by way of paraphrasing the views of former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Phillips, a Republican. (In noting that Texas is one of eight states with partisan judicial elections, and that 14 hold partisan contested elections, the article quoted Justice at Stake.)

An interim legislative committee study of judicial selection in Texas is under way (see Gavel Grab). ”We don’t know if it’s going to be taken seriously or not,” Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, told the Chronicle. “I think the concern of reformers over Texas judicial selection process is that we don’t always get the best qualified judges.” Read more

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Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Judicial Vacancy Edition

There are currently 10 federal judgeships in Texas that have been vacant for an average of nearly two years resulting in a backlog of more than 12,000 cases.  A report by the Center for American Progress notes that 17 vacancies had been filled at this point during Republican President George W. Bush’s second term, in contrast with the six judges that have been appointed to U.S. District Court vacancies in Texas under President Obama.

Phillip Martin of the Austin-based Progress Texas stated that “Senators Cornyn and Cruz have allowed politics to cloud important needs to have judges to fill our federal courts.”  The Associated Press reports that upcoming retirements could lead to as many as 13 Texas-based federal judgeships vacancies by March 2015.

Senators Cornyn and Cruz have stated that Obama hasn’t nominated candidates to fill these vacancies quickly enough. This is despite the fact that the White House does not push nominees without support from home-state senators and waits for their suggestions, as mandated by Senate tradition.

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GOP Incumbents Grab Victory in Texas Court Primary

In a Republican primary for the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday, three incumbents easily won their party’s nomination and a fourth faced no challenge. The incumbents are Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, seeking the same seat, and Justices Jeff Brown and Phil Johnson, who defeated their challengers, and Jeffrey Boyd, who was unopposed.

In a Democratic primary for the court, three Democrats faced no competition and will stand in November’s general election, according to the Associated Press. They are Bill Moody, Larry Meyers and Gina Benavides. The Texas Tribune said the Republican nominees will have an advantage in November; not since 1994 has a Democrat won statewide election in Texas.

You can learn background about the Republican primary by clicking here for Gavel Grab. Some Texas Democrats worked to support Republican  challengers, in order to oust Republican Supreme Court incumbents, in that primary.  “It shows how much more ‘politics as usual’ are spilling into races for courts,” said Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director (see Gavel Grab). 

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Upcoming Texas Supreme Court Primary in Spotlight

Around Texas, there is increasing news media interest in the upcoming March 4 Republican primary to choose nominees for the Texas Supreme Court. Three incumbent justices are on the ballot.

TX-Supreme-CourtA Southeast Texas Record article about the proliferation of signs promoting judicial candidates was headlined, “Judicial elections dominate campaign season.”

In a San Antonio Express News op-ed, former Chief Justice Tom Phillips commented on the fact that some Texas Democrats are working to support Republican  challengers, in order to oust Republican Supreme Court incumbents, in the GOP primary (see Gavel Grab). The essay was entitled, “Strange Players in GOP High Court Races.” Read more

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Advertising Begins in Texas Supreme Court Primary

Texas flagWhen Texas voters cast ballots in the March 4 Republican primary for state Supreme Court candidates, they will face contested races for three seats and an uncontested race for the fourth. Some TV and online advertising has surfaced in the GOP primary.

The choices facing voters are described in a Lubbock Avalanche-Journal article that is headlined, “State judiciary candidates gear up for March 4 primary.” The article notes that three Democrats are each running unopposed for the high court in the Democratic primary March 4.

A TV ad by Justice Jeff Brown, a candidate in the Republican primary, features the incumbent describing himself as a conservative Republican whose beliefs include “the rule of law, American exceptionalism and traditional Texas values.”

Voter information groups “Texans for Justice” and “Hecht, No!” have released an online video ad criticizing Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, a candidate on the Republican primary ballot, and supporting his challenger, Richard Talton, as well as two other challengers to Republican incumbents.

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Federal Judge to Hear Challenge to Texas Marriage Law

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of Texas was to hear arguments on Wednesday challenging the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Two couples challenging the ban are relying on the same legal argument that has led to court injunctions against similar bans in two other conservative states, Utah and Oklahoma.

The couples maintain a ban on marriage for same-sex couples violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, according to an Associated Press article.

Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and a Republican, was prepared to defend the state’s ban, which is contained in a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. In two other states, Nevada and Virginia, the attorneys general have chosen not to defend such a state ban.

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