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OP-ED: From the editor: Examining Proposition 4 (SJR 47) on the ballot

Dawn Burleigh,
General Manager/Editor

“The constitutional amendment changing the eligibility requirements for a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge.”

First, this is what https://ballotpedia.org/ has to say:

A “yes” vote supports making the following changes to eligibility requirements for a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge:

  • requires candidates to be residents of Texas as well as citizens of the United States;
  • requires 10 years of experience in Texas as a practicing lawyer or judge of a state or county court for candidates of the supreme court, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, or a court of appeals;
  • requires 8 years of experience in Texas as a practicing lawyer or judge of a state or county court for candidates of a district court;
  • disqualifies candidates if their license to practice law was revoked or suspended during experience requirement; and
  • applies these requirements to individuals elected or appointed to a term beginning after January 1, 2025.

A “no” vote opposes this amendment to make changes to the eligibility requirements for candidates running for the following judicial offices: a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge.

“The longer attorneys practice law, obviously, the more experience they have. The more life experience and legal experience you have, it gives you a better insight into the matters that might come before you,” David Beck, a partner in Beck Redden in Houston and chairman of Texas Commission on Judicial Selection said. “When you have somebody who has been practicing a minimum of four years, and is 25 years of age, I just don’t think they have had a lot of the life experiences that are useful to a judge in making decisions.”

Proposition 4 would change the eligibility requirement for a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals from 10 years of experience as a lawyer or judge to 10 years licensed in Texas as a lawyer or judge on a state or county court. The amendment would also change the eligibility for a judge of a district court from four years of experience as a practicing lawyer or judge to eight years.

The amendment also specifies that in addition to being a citizen of the United States candidates must also be residents of Texas. The amendment would take effect in January 2022 for candidates first elected for a term that begins on or after January 1, 2025.

With the need for changes in the judicial system, a more experienced person would be a better candidate for the position. This constitutional amendment would increase the credibility for opponents seeking these positions.

These seats, historically, are also have the least turnout when on the ballot on a nonpresidential election period. The same is true for an election for propositions. Propositions change the Texas Constitution, so participating in the election is allowing us, the people, to have a say in how the state is governed. The last day to register to vote for the Nov. 2, 2021 election is October 4, 2021.

Dawn Burleigh is general manager and editor of The Orange Leader. She can be reached at dawn.burleigh@orangeleader.com