An amendment to the Texas Constitution, added in 2001, allowed the state’s highest court to sit and conduct its proceedings anywhere in the state, rather than confining all the court’s business to its courtroom located in the State Capitol complex in Austin.
The amendment was adopted with the support of several justices who concluded it would benefit the people if more citizens were given an opportunity to see their state’s highest civil court at work. The idea was to bring the justice system closer to the people and perhaps inspire a few youngsters to be interested in the law along the way.
The justices select two locations around the state each year, one each in the spring and fall, for the court to visit. The court invites the public to attend its proceedings.
For the first time ever, West Texans were privileged to host the court this past week at the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center between Midland and Odessa. The court heard oral arguments on two separate cases before holding a lengthy Q & A session for all attendees.
The first case, JBS Carriers Inc. and James Lundry v. Trinette L. Washington et al., involved evidentiary issues in a wrongful death case.
The second oral argument took place in Glassdoor Inc., Doe 1 and Doe 2 v. Andra Group LP, a suit involving alleged defamation brought by an employer against Glassdoor Inc. in order to uncover the identity of an anonymous former employee who posted content critical of the company on Glassdoor’s website. The justices questioned the attorneys for the two parties, focusing particularly on legal principles protecting anonymous speech.
Audience members stuck around after the oral argument for the Q&A and had a robust discussion with the nine justices. Questions ranged from issues of state’s rights to how the court determined which justice writes for the majority in its opinions.
One young man asked the court to elaborate on the concept of “originalism,” a principle promoted by conservative jurists like Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia. Justice Devine responded saying he was a strong subscriber to originalism, and shared a quote from the late Justice Scalia, “The constitution says what it means and means what it says”.
The Supreme Court has its next traveling court session scheduled for January 31, 2019, in Texarkana. A calendar of the court’s business can be found by visiting its website at: http://www.txcourts.gov/supreme/