Texas Judicial System
There are several problems in the Texas judicial system. These include underrepresentation of minorities and women, overlapping jurisdiction in the lower courts, a lot of plea bargaining due to many cases, the judges do not have standard qualifications, there is no recusal policy, politics is exercised in the selection of judges and the Supreme Court is split. Judges are selected in partisan elections. Since there are no standard qualifications, judges have different level of training and experience. The only judges who are not selected using partisan elections are the municipal judges. They are either elected or appointed by the city council. Those who are filling for jobs in the judicial offices are also not subjected to this rule. The county commissioner’s court can appoint a judge in case there is any vacancy in the statutory county judgeships. The appointed judges serve until the next general elections.
To compete in the partisan contest, one must conduct campaigns and win the nomination of his or her party. The people feel that judges have a responsibility towards them. The problem with this system of electing judges is that it is an avenue for people to collect and solicit funds. This raises some concern especially on issues of biasness. Some of the major contributors of the judges’ campaign elections are lawyers and there is general fear that the judges will not be impartial. Another problem is that it costs a lot of money to hold campaigns. Granted that the judges do not have the same resources, some very qualified and highly trained judges can miss the opportunity.
This also raises the question of ethnicity in the judicial system. Most of the minority groups may not have the power and influence to raise huge amounts of money to hold their campaigns. This explains the small percentage of African Americans and Hispanics in all the court levels. Democrats are also the minority in Texas and most of the democrat candidates are not elected to such positions. The other problem is that judges become affiliated with their respective parties. They engage in much politics and they are not any different from the politicians. The other problem raised is that of independence. Judges get their funding from different sources some of which are different groups. The judges will feel indebted to those who support them. A considerable number of the people interviewed said that decisions were significantly affected by campaign contribution. The reasons mentioned above undercut the public’s perception and confidence in the judicial system.
Various reforms have been proposed to deal with the problems facing the judicial system. Some of the efforts are already in place and some have been individual efforts such as that of the Texas Supreme Court Justice Thomas Phillips, who has imposed voluntary contribution and expenditure limits on his campaigns. Some organizations such as the Texans for Public Justice have created awareness about the role of money in the campaigns. They have advocated for stronger finance reforms and they have managed to influence the public.
Other proposed reforms include amending the constitution with an aim of replacing the partisan election method with appointment retention model. It has also been proposed that new recusal rules to be set which disqualify judges from sitting on cases in which contributors have significant financial interest in the case outcomes. Another proposal is that private funding should replace private donations. Candidates who do not raise private funds should be supported by public funds. The candidates are also encouraged not to engage in negative campaign advertisements in the press. The records for all the contributions should also be open. This also encourages transparency.