A Broken System
The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct is a set of rules governing how judges are to behave. The Preamble declares:
Our legal system is based on the principle that an independent, fair and competent judiciary will interpret and apply the laws that govern us.
Canon 1 says:
An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society.
Canon 2(A) announces:
A judge shall comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
Canon 3(B)(2) states:
A judge shall not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.
Our current system of judges seeking election as Republicans and Democrats is inimical to these ideals. In his 2015 State-of-the Judiciary speech, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Nathan Hecht, said:
“The political parties want to participate in judicial selection, and their interest is legitimate. But the increasingly harsh political pressures judges face, and to which they are not permitted as judges to respond, threaten the independence judges must maintain to wield the power to decide the people’s disputes with each other and with their government. . . . [T]he tensions in judicial selection are mounting and will tear at the Judiciary’s integrity.“
Chief Justice Hecht’s predecessor, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, made the following declaration in his 2011 State-of-the Judiciary address:
“All that I have discussed depends on an impartial system of justice overseen by the judicial branch. We lost one of that branch’s greatest leaders, Joe Greenhill, less than two weeks ago. He told me once that he regretted that Texas has continued to elect judges on a partisan basis. I regret it, too. A justice system built on some notion of Democratic judging or Republican judging is a system that cannot be trusted.”
Of course, the partisan election of judges is only the first of two problems undermining confidence in our judiciary.
The second problem is judges accepting political contributions.
Contributions to judges absolutely destroy the “public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary” that the Code of Judicial Conduct seeks. Retired Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson had this to say in his 2009 State-of-the-Judiciary address:
“I am concerned by the public’s perception that money in judicial races influences outcomes. This is an area where perception itself destroys public confidence. . . . Polls asking about this perception find that more than 80% of those questioned believe contributions influence a judge’s decision. That’s an alarming figure – four out of five. If the public believes that judges are biased toward contributors, then confidence in the courts will suffer. So I ask the question – is our current judicial election system, which fuels the idea that politics and money play into the rule of law, the best way to elect judges in Texas? The status quo is broken.”
Ted Wood’s run for Chief Justice is not a criticism of the other candidates for the position (Terry Adams and Julie Countiss). They are merely doing what has always been done.
Ted’s run for Chief Justice is nothing less than an effort to stand our broken judicial system on its head. As Bryan Stevenson, Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has proclaimed:
“Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting. Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet.”