Tag Archives: Nathan Hecht

Planning to keep the heat on chief justice for election reform

I am going to insist that Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht keep the pressure on the Texas Legislature to move toward a fundamental change in the way we elect our judges.

He wants to make the office a non-partisan one. He dislikes the idea of electing judges as Republicans or Democrats. He says he favors a merit selection system in which judges can stand for “retention” at the ballot box.

It is music to my ears. I’ve been yammering about this kind of reform for as long as I have lived in Texas; that dates back nearly 35 years.

I applaud Chief Justice Hecht for repeating his call for judicial election reform. He has raised this issue before. I hope he keeps the heat turned up.

Hecht, of course, is motivated largely because so many of his fellow Republican judges got drummed out of office in the 2018 midterm election. They lost because of the surge of enthusiasm among Texas Democrats. I am not one bit concerned about his reason for reiterating his demand for change in the electoral system. He and I are on the same page.

I want the Legislature to listen carefully to the state’s chief justice and act on his request.

By all means, change the Texas judicial election system!

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has just elevated himself greatly among those of us who detest the way the state elects its judges.

Chief Justice Hecht wants the Legislature to do away with partisan election of judges. He wants a total overhaul of the judicial election system. He has called on merit selection and retention elections to replace the ghastly status quo in which highly qualified judges are tossed aside on a strictly partisan basis.

Hecht has walked this path before. I suppose I just haven’t been paying careful enough attention until now.

To be clear, the chief justice was stung by the loss of key Republican judges in the 2018 midterm election. Appellate courts flipped from GOP to Democratic control, which I guess alarms the Republican chief justice.

Whatever the case, or his motives, I totally support his call for judicial election reform.

Hecht made his remarks in his State of the Judiciary speech. He said, “Make no mistake: A judicial selection system that continues to sow the political wind will reap the whirlwind.”

So it happened in 2018. And so it has gotten the attention once again of the state’s top civil appellate court’s chief justice.

I long have bemoaned the partisan election of judges in Texas. I have sought over the course of many years in Texas to get judges and judicial candidates to explain to me the “difference between Democratic and Republican justice.” Not a single one of them ever explained the difference in any fashion that made a lick of sense.

To be clear about another point as well, not all judges want the kind of reform that Hecht has proposed. I remember asking the late state Sen. (and later a Supreme Court justice) Oscar Mauzy of Dallas whether we should go to a form of merit selection for judges. He came unglued. Mauzy, a ferocious, partisan Democrat, said appointing judges was akin to a “communist” system of justice. He loved running as a Democrat and wasn’t about to support any change in the Texas judicial election system.

Texas Republicans long have prospered in these judicial contests. The Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals — the state’s two highest appellate courts — comprise 18 GOP jurists. Thus, to hear a Republican chief justice call once again for this significant judicial reform is, well, the rarest of calls.

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, for trying to pound some sense into the state’s political power structure.

No ‘hails’ to this new chief justice, please

Nathan Hecht is going to become the next chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

I’m not surprised Gov. Rick Perry would pick Hecht to succeed Wallace Jefferson, who is resigning to return to private practice. Perry — who’s served as Texas governor longer than anyone in history — seems to like longevity, and Hecht is the longest-serving member of the state’s highest civil appeals court. He’s also among the court’s most conservative members, which of course fits Perry’s litmus test perfectly.


Hecht, though, isn’t a good pick for a couple of reasons. First of all, he’s had some run-ins with Texas’s ethics rules relating to alleged misuse of campaign funds and his reported acceptance of more than $150,000 in discounted legal fees. Still, Perry found it OK to praise Hecht’s integrity … blah, blah, blah.

Maybe more important, in my view, is that Hecht represents the courts’ radical shift to the right, which has occurred over many years.

There once was a time when the Supreme Court was seen as a plaintiff’s paradise, where folks could sue big corporations and then appeal it to the highest civil appellate court and get, say, a verdict overturned or modified in their favor. The pendulum has swung dramatically in the other direction, so much so now that the court is viewed as overly friendly to those big corporations who get sued on occasion.

Hecht represents the court’s radical change in attitude.

To be sure, conservatives in Texas and elsewhere love to criticize liberal judges for being “activist.” They ignore the absolute fact that conservative judges and courts can be every bit as activist as their more liberal colleagues.

The Texas Supreme Court’s radical shift from one level of activism to the other extreme doesn’t make it more fair or balanced or unbiased. It just shifts the unfairness, imbalance and bias to the other side.

That shift is what Nathan Hecht brings to his new job.