This November, four seats on the currently all-Republican Texas Supreme Court will be on the ballot. Democrats are keenly interested in flipping those seats — largely due to a slew of highly controversial opinions issued by the court which directly impacted Texans’ ability to cope with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Supreme Court of Texas is this state’s court-of-last-resort, and final word, on all civil matters encompassing vital issues such as voting rights, civil rights, government accountability, workers’ rights, business disputes, state and local taxation and regulation, environmental issues and countless others.
Texas is one of only a handful of states that holds partisan elections for its highest court. In a typical year, voters usually do not give the Texas Supreme Court much thought — a concern usually only held by the lawyers who appear before that court. This November, however, Democrats, who have not held a seat on the court in over two decades, have made winning seats on Texas’ highest civil court a “top-tier priority,” according to one party official who spoke with the Texas Tribune.
“I think people’s eyes are opening up … what has been a sleepy branch of government has woken up,” said Texas Third Court of Appeals Justice Gisela Triana, one of the four Democrats running for the Texas Supreme Court this November.
Texas Supreme Court opinions surrounding coronavirus relief and voting have garnered widespread denouncement from Democrats, as reported by the Texas Tribune. In May, the Texas Supreme Court lifted a ban on evictions and debt collections, put in place to assist Texans suffering from the economic impact of the pandemic. The court also temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that expanded vote-by-mail access.
Staci Williams, the Democratic candidate running for Texas Supreme Court Place 7, said to the Texas Tribune in May: “While millions of Texans struggle during a pandemic, which by all indications is getting worse, not better, in Texas — the Supreme Court has decided that they will return to business as usual when it comes to evictions and debt collections.”
The Texas Supreme Court, like the United States Supreme Court, has a direct and meaningful impact on all Texans’ rights, wellbeing and finances. The Texas Supreme Court, again like the United States Supreme Court, has one chief justice, and eight associate justices. Unlike its federal counterpart, however, all Texas Supreme Court Justices are elected in explicitly partisan races and serve six-year terms without term limits.
This November, the following Texas Supreme Court Justices, all of whom are Republicans, are on the ballot seeking reelection: Chief Justice Nathan Hecht (first elected 1989); Associate Justice Place 6 – Jane Bland (appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019); Associate Justice Place 7 – Jeffrey S. Boyd (appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2012); and Associate Justice Place 8 – J. Brett Busby (appointed by Abbott in 2019). Of those four, Justices Bland and Busby have yet to face an actual election for their seats, instead having been appointed by Abbott and confirmed by the currently Republican-held Texas Senate to fill vacated seats on the court.
Each of those four faces a Democratic challenger this November, all of whom are women: Judge Amy Clark Meachum, currently a Travis County state district judge, is challenging Hecht for chief justice; Kathy Cheng, a private practice attorney in Houston, is challenging Bland for Place 6; Staci Williams, a private practice attorney, and former administrative judge for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, and Dallas County municipal judge, is challenging Boyd for Place 7; and Justice Gisela Triana, currently on the Texas Third Court of Appeals, is challenging Busby for Place 8.
“It’s going to be a much harder time to say, ‘Hey, everything’s OK, and I’m just going to vote for whoever I’ve been used to voting for,’” Triana said to the Texas Tribune. “In the air, there’s a real hunger for change.”