Lawsuits concerning school finance and redistricting could soon be subject to a different process if Gov. Greg Abbott approves. On Monday, the Texas Legislature passed SB 455 by State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and sponsored by State Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Katy) in the House. If signed by Abbott, the legislation would allow the Attorney General to petition the Texas Supreme Court for the formation of a three-judge panel to hear school finance and redistricting cases of major, statewide impact.
“School finance has been a forty-year saga for Texas because one court has held the power to dictate the outcome on these constitutional issues,” said Creighton. “From here forward, Texans will have representation and a voice in cases of this magnitude that affect citizens across the entire state.”
As many observers are aware, both school finance and redistricting lawsuits have been a mainstay of Texas politics for decades. Almost perennially, the laws have been passed only to be challenged almost exclusively in liberal Travis County. As a result, many conservatives argue that Travis County voters have disproportionate impact and undue clout as compared to other Texans across the state.
“It is fundamentally unfair for the voters of one county to pick the judge who decides the school finance or redistricting system for the entire state, leaving Texans in the 253 other counties with no say at all,” said Schofield. “By creating a three-judge panel for these cases, made up of judges from different parts of Texas, we can ensure that more Texans are represented in the decisions that affect their children, their property taxes, and their rights as voters.”
Under the legislation, the three judge panel would be formed from the district court judge of original jurisdiction (where the case was filed) and two more judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Of those two appointed judges, one of them would be another district court judge and one would be an appellate court judge. The measure now proceeds to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for consideration.