The Supreme Court of Texas is the court of last resort in the state. The justices hear appeals cases for civil and criminal matters, then make a final determination on the outcomes through careful review of the facts presented by the attorneys representing both sides, and render a decision based on the letter of the law. The court hears some cases that bear weight and the potential to set legal precedents in upcoming cases involving similar topics. To familiarize you with this powerful and appellate part of the judicial system, here are twenty things you probably didn’t know about the Texas Supreme Court.
1. The Texas Supreme Court is more than a century old
The first Supreme court in the state of Texas was formed on February 19, 1846. It has been in existence for 176 years as of 2022. It’s not the oldest supreme court in the nation but it has a rich and storied history.
2. The Supreme Court of Texas is the court of last resort
The Texas Supreme Court is an appellate court that hears matters that have already gone through the lower courts of the judicial system. The court hears selected appeals and makes a final ruling based on the evidence presented by attorneys from both sides. The court hears civil matters and also certain juvenile delinquency cases.
3. The Supreme court of Texas does not hear criminal cases
Unlike many other state supreme courts, the Texas Supreme Court does not hear criminal cases. These are referred to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or CCA. The latter court is the court of last resort for cases that involve criminal charges. This distinguishes the Texas Supreme Court from many other states.
4. The Supreme Court of Texas has nine justices
Each state determines the number of justices that serve on their respective supreme courts. The state of Texas maintains a panel of eight associate justices and one Chief Justice. Each of the positions is an elected seat that is determined by the will of the people as expressed by popular vote.
5. The Supreme Court of Texas has no term limits
There are no term limits for justices who wish to continue serving on the Supreme Court of Texas. So long as the citizens are willing to vote them in, they can serve multiple terms. Each seat is held for six years. When the term is nearing conclusion, the justice has the option of running for re-election but must be voted in. Most of the state supreme courts elect their officials except for Virginia and one other state that appoints their justices through the direct legislature. A court justice for the Texas Supreme Court may serve until reaching the age limit imposed on all members.
6. The Supreme Court of Texas has changed names
The Supreme court of Texas first convened in the year 1846. It was called the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas before 1846. The name was changed per the new constitution of the state of Texas after that date. The State of Texas was originally claimed by Mexico and was a bone of contention between the two countries until it was settled at the close of the Mexican-American War, which resulted in Texas’ official declaration as a territory of the United States.
7. Texas had an all-women Supreme Court
The first woman to pass the Bar Exam in the state of Texas was Hortense Sparks Ward. She achieved a passing score in 1910. She was a member of an all-female Supreme Court in the state in 1925. Sparks Ward was named Special Chief Justice by appointment. The event occurred when an impactful case was presented in 1924, referred to as Johnson v. Darr. The case involved the Woodmen of the World. The male justices all recused themselves from the case as most of them were members of the fraternal organization. There was an obvious conflict of interest that made them unsuitable to serve without bias in the case. The search for suitable replacements for weighing the case continued for ten months, to no avail as most members of the Texas Bar belonged to the organization. The Governor of the state was Pats Neff. He decided to appoint a special court that included three women. The female justices were Ruths Virginia Brazzil, Ward, and Hattie Leah Henneberg. None of the women were associated with the organization. The specially appointed members of the Supreme Court of Texas heard the case and rendered their decision.
8. Two of the current Texas Supreme Justices were elected
Although Texas places justices on the Supreme Court through election processes, only two of the current judges serving were placed there by that practice. The other seven members were appointed. Five judges got appointed by Governor Greg Abbott. Two members got appointed by former governor Rick Perry. Terms of appointees expire between 2022 and 2026.
9. The Texas Supreme Court is diverse in age and gender
The justices currently serving on the Texas Supreme Court are from diverse backgrounds. Evan Young got appointed to fill a vacant seat on November 10, 2021. His term as justice expires in 2022. J. Brett Busby, age 48 is an appointee. Jeffrey S. Boyd is in his 60s. Jane Bland is 56. Rebeca Huddle is 47 years old. John P. Devine is 63. Debra Lehrmann is 65 years old. Jimmy Blacklock is 41 years old, and Nathan Hecht is 72. This group represents an age range from 41 to 72 years old. The group consists of three women and six men. Each justice on the Texas Supreme Court for 2022 is Republican. Three members of the Supreme Court of Texas graduated from the Texas Law School. Two judges graduated from Yale Law School. One justice graduated from Southern Methodist sLaw School, one graduated from South Texas Law School, one graduated from Pepperdine Law School, and one graduated from Columbia Law School.
10. The Chief Justices of the Texas Supreme Court were Democrat until 1988
The Place One on the Texas Supreme Court is the Chief Justice Seat. The first Chief Justice in 1876 was affiliated with the Democratic political party. All of the Chief Justices since that time were also Democrats until the year 1988 when the first Republican was voted to the position. From 1988 to the present, all Chief Justices were Republicans and the entire court is affiliated with the Republican political party.
11. The Texas Supreme Court is known for its notable cases
Ballotpedia shares that the Texas Supreme Court reviewed the Boeing v. Paxton case in 2015. The case involved a lease between the aerospace manufacturer Boeing and a Port Authority. A disagreement between the Port Authority and Boeing about public information could potentially put Boeing at a disadvantage for acquiring government projects in the future. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton refused to block the release of information about the lease between the two and Boeing filed an appeal to have the information kept private. Releasing the information could put trade secrets held by Boeing at risk of discovery. Paxton declined the request alleging that the redaction of parts of the lease was not protected under the Public Information Act of the state. The court weighed the evidence per the established laws and decided that Paxton was required to block the release of information from the lead of property in San Antonio to prevent competitors from benefiting from the information. The case was previously heard by two lower courts, favoring Boeing, but Paxton pushed for a Supreme Court review in an appeal. The Attorney General ruling allowed Governor Greg Abbott confidentiality in current and future dealings with businesses outside of the state of Texas, citing the governor’s office as a competitor for the jobs of the businesses. It took three months for the case to resolve. It set a powerful precedent for future interactions with out-of-state businesses and the State of Texas.
12. The Supreme Court of Texas ruled on the 2013 Open Beaches Act
The Severance v. Patterson case was another notable incident that the Supreme Court of Texas reviewed. The Court heard the case involving thirteen beachfront homeowners who believed that the Texas General Land Office’s efforts to make them move their houses from the public right of way to the beaches was property theft. The Open Beaches Act of 1959 was voted into the 2009 state Constitution to allow the public to access the beaches, but it did not apply to cases of storms or erosion that occurred through no fault of the homeowners. The court overturned an appellate ruling that allowed the city of Surfside rights to refuse repairs or run utilities to beachfront homes that were in the public right of way as a result of erosion. The homeowners benefited as a result of this case which overturned the previous ruling.
13. The Texas Supreme Court maintains ethical guidelines
Judges on the Texas Supreme Court are bound by ethical principles and guidelines in their proscriptions for conduct. The same is true for all Texas judicial candidates. The eight canons include upholding independence and integrity of the judiciary, avoiding impropriety and the appearance of it in all activities of the judges, performing duties of the office diligently and without partiality, conducting outside activities to reduce risk of conflict with judicial obligations, and refraining from inappropriate political activity. the full Texas Code of Judicial Conduct exists in writing for all to review. The remaining two canons deal with the effective date of compliance and the construction and terminology of the code.
14. Origins of the Texas Supreme Court predate statehood
The Supreme Court of Texas’ origins began before Texas was admitted as a member of the United States. It goes back to the year 1836. The Chief Justice and eight associate justices were selected from eight district courts in Texas. The court was fully functional with the first team serving from January 13, 1840, through December 29, 1845. Texas gained admission to the Union at the end of 1845. Like many other states in the Union, Texas had an appellate judicial system in place before statehood was ratified.
15. Texas State government has a trifecta
A trifecta is a term describing a single-party government. It starts with the governor’s office and trickles down to other branches of government including majorities in both chambers of the legislature. In the case of Texas, the trifecta is Republican with the party controlling the governor’s office, both chambers of the state legislature, and all members of the supreme court are Republican.
16. The Texas Supreme Court hears more than a thousand cases per year
The justices for the Supreme Court of Texas are busy when the court is in session. The Texas Supreme Court made 1,337 dispositions in the year 2007. The court averaged between 1,100 to over 1,400 cases annually until the recent pandemic.
17. Abortion is illegal in the State of Texas
Perhaps one of the most controversial determinations made by the Texas Supreme Court is upholding the law prohibiting abortions for women. Texas law’s structure prohibits abortions before many women know that they’re expecting. This law bans most, but not all abortions after the woman are pregnant for six weeks. It is a monumental case that overrides the Supreme Court’s decision to grant the constitutional right of women to undergo abortion procedures. The New York Times confirms that Texas is the most restrictive state in the nation for access to abortion services. It is the first state to implement a legal ban on abortions. The Texas Supreme court voted 5 to 4 on the measure. Its justices refused to block the law from taking effect.
18. There are two branches of the Texas Supreme Court
Laws reports there are two distinct branches of the Supreme Court in Texas. All members of the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are elected based on a statewide nomination. Since 1994, all 18 seats (nine on each court) remained occupied by a member of the Republican Party.
19. 2020 was a lean year for the Texas Supreme Court
The nine justices of the Texas Supreme Court heard ninety cases in 2020. Covid-19 shut down much of the proceedings. 82.2 percent of the cases were resolved with a unanimous ruling. Twenty-eight per curiam decisions happened with eleven concurring opinions. Justice Boyd had the most dissenting opinions for the year at six and a total of seventeen dissenting opinions throughout the ninety cases spread across all justices.
20. Candidates for the Texas Supreme Court must meet minimum eligibility requirements
Texas Courts candidates running for the elected or appointed positions for the seats on the Texas Supreme Court must meet minimum eligibility requirements. There are age restrictions. Incumbents must be at least 35 years of age. They must be citizens of the state of Texas and licensed to practice law in the state of Texas. They must also have practiced law, been a judge of a court or lawyer for a minimum of ten years.