A commission created by the state Legislature has recommended ending partisan judicial elections, although they are split on the solution.

The Texas Commission on Judicial Selection was created in 2019 by the 86th Legislature. The commission was charged “to study and review the method by which statutory county court judges, including probate court judges; district judges; appellate and Supreme Court Justices are selected for office in Texas.”

Changing the judicial selection method has been attempted numerous times throughout the state’s history, with some advocating a change to a merit selection system or appointment. 

The Texas Constitution provides the method for judicial selection, and any change to the current method must be made through a constitutional amendment. In order to amend the Constitution, an amendment must be approved by two-thirds of the members of each house of the Legislature and then approved by a majority of voters in the next general election.

In January 2020, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stated his opposition to appointing judges, rather than electing them, and pushed back.

“Texans feel strongly about voting for their judges,” Patrick said. “The commission will need to make a compelling argument to the people and legislators to change the current system. I do not believe that support exists today.”

The commission contains 15 members. Four members each were appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and then-Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, with one appointment each by the Supreme Court of Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and the State Bar of Texas.

Though every senator on the commission voted against the recommendation to end partisan judicial elections, enough of the public members voted in favor of it, resulting in a final vote of 8-7.

There was not, however, consensus on what the solution would be, according to the senators on the commission:

We have carefully listened to and reviewed all information presented to the Commission, as well as several extensive public opinion polls. After doing so, we find no apparent consensus among either the Commission’s members or the public regarding the most efficient and effective way to select judges and justices in this State. In fact, alternative methods that the Commission studied present their own challenges, and opinions differ widely regarding which if any of these alternatives might be superior to our current process. These issues make the task of recommending specific constitutional or statutory changes to the 87th Legislature extremely difficult.

State Reps. Brooks Landgraf (R–Odessa) and Todd Hunter (R–Corpus Christi) voted in favor of ending the partisan election of judges.

The commission held 15 meetings in 2020, from January to December, and created three subcommittees with specific charges and members: Appointments & Confirmations, Citizen Panels and Judicial Qualifications, and Elections.