Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Supreme Court of Texas

The Supreme Court of Texas is composed of a Chief Justice plus eight Justices and it is the court of last resort for civil matters in the State of Texas. The Supreme Court of Texas was first established in 1836 by the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, which vested the judicial power of the Republic in “…one Supreme Court and such inferior courts as the Congress may establish.” The later Texas state Constitutions also established the Supreme Court as head of the judicial branch of Texas government.

A different court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is the court of last resort for criminal matters. The Justices of the Supreme Court are elected to staggered six-year terms in state-wide elections.

The Supreme Court has statewide appellate jurisdiction in most civil cases, which include contract, personal injury, family and juvenile cases. The Court’s jurisdiction is discretionary; that is, the Court decides what cases it will take. Parties do not have a right to have their cases fully heard by the Court. Instead, they petition the Court to review their cases. Only about 10% of the cases are granted review. The Supreme Court’s caseload consists of three primary categories:
  1. Determining whether to grant review of the final judgment of a court of appeals or certain interlocutory orders via a petition for review;
  2. Disposition of regular causes which include review of a final judgment, petitions for writs of mandamus or habeas corpus, certified questions, accepted parental notification appeals, and direct appeals;
  3. Disposition of numerous motions related to petitions and regular causes.
Members of the Texas Supreme Court are elected in partisan elections on a statewide basis for six-year terms of office. When a vacancy arises the Governor of Texas may appoint Justices, subject to Senate confirmation, to serve out the remainder of an unexpired term until the next general election. Anyone appointed to the Court must stand for election in the next general election after the appointment.

Five of the current Justices, a majority, have been appointed by Governor Rick Perry (R) and all the current Justices, like all the Judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, are members of the Republican party. All justices are elected to a "court place position" in state-wide general elections. Other than Place 1, which is reserved as the Chief Justice place position, the Supreme Court place numbers have no special significance.

To stand for election a person must be at least 35 years of age, a United States and Texas citizen, licensed to practice law in Texas, and must have practiced law at least 10 years. There are no other qualifications to be a justice — the rest is up to the voters of Texas, or in the case of a vacancy, the Governor.

By statute, the Texas Supreme Court has administrative control over the State Bar of Texas, an agency of the judiciary. The Texas Supreme Court also has the sole authority to license attorneys in Texas, and appoint members of the Board of Law Examiners, which under instructions of the Supreme Court, administers the Texas State Bar Examination. Administrative duties include:
  1. Promulgating the Rules of Civil Procedure for the Texas judicial system (Gov’t Code §22.004);
  2. Promulgating rules of administration for the Texas judicial system (Gov’t Code §72.024);
  3. Equalizing the dockets of the 14 courts of appeals (Gov’t Code §73.001);
  4. Promulgating the rules of procedure for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, and disciplining judges or removing judges from office (Gov’t Code, Ch. 33, art. V, sec.1-a);
  5. Supervising the operations of the State Bar of Texas and the rules and regulations for the admission, discipline, supervision, and disbarment of lawyers, and approving the law schools of the State (Gov’t Code, Ch. 81); and
  6. Promulgating the rules for the operation of the Court Reporters Certification Board and the disciplinary rules enforced by this Board (Gov’t Code §52.002).
Committees of lawyers and judges assist the court in reviewing, amending and developing rules of procedure and judicial administration — but the Court has final say on the rules. By overseeing the State Bar and ruling and disciplinary matters, the Court regulates the legal profession itself.

By statute, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court has the responsibility to:
  1. Confer with the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions to promote the prompt dispatch of judicial business (Gov’t Code §74.001);
  2. Assign judges between administrative judicial regions (Gov’t Code §74.057);
  3. Assign retired appellate justices to the various courts of appeals on a temporary basis (Gov’t Code §74.003);
  4. Deliver a “State of the Judiciary” message at the commencement of each regular session of the Legislature (Gov’t Code §21.004);
  5. Ensure that the Supreme Court executes and implements its administrative duties and responsibilities (Gov’t Code §74.006).
In practice, the Chief presides over the conferences of the nine justices to discuss cases pending before them. As part of the “administrative duties and responsibilities” the Chief traditionally plays the role of encouraging the other justices to work efficiently and keep up with the Court’s caseload.

Graphical Guide to the Court System of Texas.
Pamphlet on the Texas Judicial System
Overview of Court System Structure and Jurisdiction
Texas Judicial System Subject-Matter Jurisdiction of the Courts

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