Let’s congratulate Jane Bland, our fellow Texan who this week set an impressive record that involved millions of Texans.
But first, a little about Bland.
She’s from Houston, and she and husband Doug have two adult children. She has a Longhorn, having earned undergrad and law degrees here in Austin at Big State U.
Her legal career has included stints at the law firms of Baker Botts and Vinson & Elkins. She’s been involved in her church and community in Houston, and she has earned several impressive legal world accolades.
Now let’s get to the record book she quietly entered this week.
Bland on Tuesday became the greatest vote-getter in the history of the Great State of Texas. More than Donald J. Trump. More than George W. Bush. More than George H.W. Bush. More than George P. Bush. More than Ronald W. Reagan.
Many Texans probably never heard of her. But that didn’t stop more than 6 million Texans from voting for her. Sometime Wednesday, as the vote counting continued, Bland became the first Texas statewide candidate to top that mark, a moment in history brought to our attention by the eagle-eyed folks at Texas Election Source.
So much for the crucial importance of name recognition. And, even weirder, the election she won was for a post she initially got via the support of just one Texan.
Welcome to the odd world of appellate justice in Texas.
Bland was the winner in Tuesday’s race for Place 6 on the nine-member Texas Supreme Court. She already held that seat, though she never was elected to it. The Texas Supreme Court is an elected body — except when it isn’t, which often is most of the time, especially when talking about how justices first get to the court.
Let me explain, if possible: The Texas Constitution says Texans shall elect their Supreme Court justices. But modern politics says it only kinda, sorta works that way.
Seven of the current nine justices, all Republicans, started out as gubernatorial appointees, three by Rick Perry and four (including Bland) by Greg Abbott.
Recent Abbott appointee Rebeca Huddle is the court’s newest justice. She replaced Paul Green, who retired in August, more than two years prior to the end of his term and a week after the deadline to put the race for his replacement on Tuesday’s ballot.
You see, what has developed is a system in which it’s considered courteous, if constitutionally side-stepping, for justices to resign prior to the end of their terms. This allows the governor to fill the seat via appointment. Senate confirmation is needed, but not if the Legislature is not in session and the appointee wins election prior to the next session.
There’s nothing wrong or illegal about this. It’s just kind of, shall we say, tricky and a trifle conspiratorial.
Bland, then a Houston appellate judge, was appointed by Abbott in August 2019 to replace Justice Jeff Brown who resigned to become a federal judge.
Bland also initially got her Houston state district judge and appellate court seats via appointments, the former from Bush and the latter from Perry. Voters subsequently reelected her three times to the appellate bench. But Houston-area voters ousted her in 2018 as part of a Democratic sweep that evicted many Republicans.
Her defeat probably wasn’t personal. It’s hard to imagine that many voters knew much about her other than her name and party affiliation. That was a bad year for Republicans in Harris County. It’s part of the reason why the GOP-controlled Legislature did away with straight-ticket voting.
On Tuesday, it was party affiliation that helped fuel Bland’s record-setting performance. As of Thursday, with 94% of the state’s polling places reporting, Trump, at the top of the GOP ticket, had 5,856,440 votes. Bland, a bit further down the ballot, had 6,015,699 votes in defeating Democrat Kathy Cheng. It’s a record made more impressive by the fact that this was the first year in which straight-ticket vote wasn’t an option.
It’s a record made somewhat less impressive by the fact that Texas had a record 1.9 million more registered voters this year than in 2016. More than 10.8 million Texans voted in the Bland-Cheng race, the third of four Supreme Court seats on the ballot.
Sure, some Texans might have voted for Bland after a detailed review of the candidates’ records. But it’s a safe surmise that all a large majority of voters knew about Bland and Cheng were their names, party affiliation and the fact that Bland was the incumbent, perhaps indicating to some voters that they might have previously voted for her for the Supreme Court, which they had not.
Why’d she get about 200,000 more votes than the other three GOP incumbents who won their Supreme Court races? Beats me. Bigger family? Maybe something about the last name Bland was more attractive than Hecht, Busby or Boyd.
All 10 statewide GOP candidates on Tuesday’s ballot got at least 5.7 million votes and broke the state record. But Bland broke it the most.
The previous record holder? GOP Justice Eva Guzman got 4,884,441 in 2016. Guzman was appointed to the high court in 2009 to replace Justice Scott Brister, who resigned with more than a year to go on his term.
Brister, who later won election to the seat, initially was appointed by Perry to replace Craig Enoch, who resigned but — surprise! — actually initially was elected to the court in 1992 by ousting Democrat Oscar Mauzy.
So you see how our elected system for picking Texas Supreme Court justices has become something of a retention system in which governors appoint the justices and voters then get to decide if they want to replace appointed justices who enjoy the imprimatur and fundraising advantages of incumbency.
It’s possibly not exactly what the drafters of the Texas Constitution had in mind for our justice system, bless their judicious hearts.