I know what governors say when they make appointments to the Texas court system: They’re picking the “most qualified” jurist they can find.
Gov. Greg Abbott has a vacancy to fill on the Texas Supreme Court. It’s the seat vacated by former Justice Phil Johnson, who retired at the end of 2018. Justice Johnson came to the highest state civil appellate court from Amarillo, where he served as chief justice of the 7th Court of Appeals.
I am proud to declare that prior to Johnson’s appointment, I used the Amarillo Globe-News editorial page as a forum to call on then-Gov. Rick Perry to select someone from west of the Interstate 35/45 corridor. West Texas had plenty of qualified judges to serve on the state Supreme Court, so it made sense to select someone from, say, the Panhandle to sit on the state’s highest civil court. And, yes, I was aware that Phil Johnson had sought the job.
Texas doesn’t apportion seats on either the Supreme Court or the Court of Criminal Appeals to provide any form of geographic balance. I understand that all nine justices and judges on each court represents the entire state.
However . . .
Why not look a little more closely out west when looking for a replacement for Justice Johnson?
I am acquainted with Justice Johnson, who was elected and then re-elected to his seat on the Supreme Court. I don’t believe he would endorse the notion of apportioning these seats geographically. Although, I was given an interesting bit of intelligence from a former colleague of Johnson’s on the 7th Court of Appeals.
The late Don Reavis, who hailed from Perryton, once told me he was the 7th court’s token “rural” judge, meaning that he was selected because the appeals court was intended to have some representation among its members from the rural regions in the vast territory the court served. It wasn’t written anywhere, Reavis said, but it was just done that way out of a form of custom.
Is the Texas Supreme Court above such a custom when a vacancy occurs? I wouldn’t think so. Then again, it’s the governor’s call to make. Choose wisely, Gov. Abbott.