The Supreme Court of Texas is the court of last resort for civil matters (including juvenile delinquency which the law considers to be a civil matter and not criminal) in the U.S. state of Texas. A different court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is the court of last resort for criminal matters.

The Court is composed of a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. It was established in 1846 to replace the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas. The Court meets in Downtown Austin, Texas in a building located on the state Capitol grounds, behind the Texas State Capitol.

Regulation of the legal profession in Texas

By statute, the Texas Supreme Court has administrative control over the State Bar of Texas, an agency of the judiciary.[2] The Texas Supreme Court has the sole authority to license attorneys in Texas,[3] and also appoints the members of the Board of Law Examiners[4] which, under instructions of the Supreme Court, administers the Texas bar examination.[5]

Unique procedural aspects

The Texas Supreme Court is the only state supreme court in the United States in which the manner in which it denies discretionary review can actually imply approval or disapproval of the merits of the lower court's decision and in turn may affect the geographic extent of the precedential effect of that decision. In March 1927, the Texas Legislature enacted a law directing the Texas Supreme Court to summarily refuse to hear applications for writs of error when it believed the Court of Appeals opinion correctly stated the law.[6] Thus, since June 1927, over 4,100 decisions of the Texas Courts of Appeals have become valid binding precedent of the Texas Supreme Court itself because the high court refused applications for writ of error rather than denying them and thereby signaled that it approved of their holdings as the law of the state.[6]

While Texas' unique practice saved the state supreme court from having to hear relatively minor cases just to create uniform statewide precedents on those issues, it also makes for lengthy citations to the opinions of the Courts of Appeals, since the subsequent writ history of the case must always be noted (e.g., no writ, writ refused, writ denied, etc.) in order for the reader to determine at a glance whether the cited opinion is binding precedent only in the district of the Court of Appeals in which it was decided, or binding precedent for the entire state.[6]

Justices of the Court

The Court has a Chief Justice and eight associate justices. Each member of the Court must be at least 35 years of age, a citizen of Texas, licensed to practice law in Texas, and must have practiced law (or have been a lawyer and a judge of a court of record together) for at least ten years.[7] The Clerk of the Court is appointed by the Justices and serves a four-year term.

Election of members of the Court

Texas Supreme Court Building

The Chief Justice and the Associate Justices are elected to staggered six-year terms in statewide partisan elections. When a vacancy arises the Governor of Texas may appoint Justices, subject to Senate confirmation, to serve out the remainder of an unexpired term until the next general election. As of 2017, seven of the current Justices, a majority, were originally appointed by Governor Rick Perry. The current Justices, like all the Judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, are all Republican.

The place numbers have no special meaning as all justices are elected statewide, except that the Chief Justice position is considered "Place 1".

Women on the Court

Hortense Sparks Ward, who became the first woman to pass the Texas Bar Exam in 1910, was appointed Special Chief Justice of an all-female Texas Supreme Court 15 years later. All of the court's male justices recused themselves from Johnson v. Darr, a 1924 case involving the Woodmen of the World, and, since nearly every member of the Texas Bar was a member of that fraternal organization, paying personal insurance premiums that varied with the claims decided against it, no male judges or attorneys could be found to hear the case.[8] After ten months of searching for suitable male replacements to decide the case, Governor Pat Neff decided on January 1, 1925, to appoint a special court composed of three women. This court, consisting of Ward, Hattie Leah Henenberg, and Ruth Virginia Brazzil, met for five months and ultimately ruled in favor of Woodmen of the World.[9]

On July 25, 1982, Ruby Kless Sondock became the court's first regular female justice, when she was appointed to replace the Associate Justice James G. Denton who had died of a heart attack. Sondock served the remainder of Denton's term, which ended on December 31, 1982, but did not seek election to the Supreme Court in her own right.[10] Rose Spector became the first woman elected to the court in 1992 and served until 1998 when she was defeated by Harriet O'Neill.[11]

Current justices

Justice Party Affiliation Place Date Service Began Term Ends
Nathan Hecht
Chief Justice
January 1, 1989
Jimmy Blacklock
January 2, 2018
Debra Lehrmann
June 21, 2010
John P. Devine
January 1, 2013
Paul W. Green
January 1, 2005
Jeff Brown
October 3, 2013
Jeffrey S. Boyd
December 3, 2012
Phil Johnson
April 11, 2005
Eva Guzman
October 8, 2009

History of membership of the Court

Succession of seats

Supreme Court Committees

Judicial Committee on Information Technology (JCIT)

Created in 1997 JCIT was established to set standards and guidelines for the systematic implementation and integration of information technology into the trial and appellate courts in Texas.

JCIT approaches this mission by providing a forum for state-local, inter-branch, and public-private collaboration, and development of policy recommendations for the Supreme Court of Texas. Court technology, and the information it carries, are sprawling topics, and Texas is a diverse state with decentralized funding and decision-making for trial court technology. JCIT provides a forum for discussion of court technology and information projects. With this forum, JCIT reaches out to external partners such as the Conference of Urban Counties, the County Information Resource Agency, Texas.gov, and TIJIS (Texas Integrated Justice Information Systems), and advises or is consulted by the Office of Court Administration on a variety of projects.

Three themes consistently recur in the JCIT conversation: expansion and governance of electronic filing; the evolution and proliferation of court case management systems; and the evolution and governance of technology standards for reporting and sharing information across systems in civil, family, juvenile, and criminal justice.

The Founding Chair of JCIT from 1997–2009 was Peter S. Vogel, a partner at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP in Dallas, and since 2009 the JCIT Chair has been Justice Rebecca Simmons.

2014 Texas Supreme Court judicial election

Texas is one of seven states that elects Supreme Court justices on partisan ballots. Four justices of the Texas Supreme Court faced re-election in 2014.[12] Three of the four sitting Supreme Court Justices, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Justice Jeff Brown and Justice Phil Johnson, were required to defeat challengers in a March primary before the general election in November. The candidates challenging the incumbent Supreme Court Justices, according to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, were recruited for the election and funded by a Houston plaintiff lawyer and Ali Davari, owner of two strip clubs: Sexy City and Erotic Zone.[13][14]

Texas for Lawsuit Reform commented on the Texas election by saying, “Plaintiff trial lawyers are making an unprecedented attempt to regain the control of the Supreme Court that they enjoyed in the 1970s and 1980s, when Texas was known as 'The Lawsuit Capitol of the World.'" Also, an airing of Sixty Minutes entitled Justice for Sale gave a devastating critique of the Texas Supreme Court.[15]

Houston plaintiff lawyer Mark Lanier, funded the bulk of the campaign to remove the Texas Supreme Court and business groups. Funding was disclosed in an article titled, "Plaintiff Trial Lawyers Attempt to Distort Role of Judges and Juries."[16]

In the years preceding the Texas Judicial Election, Lanier had become a vocal critic of the Texas Supreme Court after the Supreme Court reversed his signature trial verdict against Merck & Co. on behalf of a widow whose husband died after taking Vioxx.[17] After Lanier suffered a second high-profile loss of a Vioxx case, in which the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston concluded in MERCK & CO., INC. v. Ernst, a wrongful death case by a widow, that Lanier failed to show that the ingestion of Vioxx caused the death of his client's spouse.[18][19] Lanier's publicly criticized the Texas Supreme Court stating that it employs "a simpleton approach that basically white washes the trial, ignores the evidence, and is very conclusion based."[19]

Lanier responded to the appellate setbacks in a press release:

Activist judges are protecting corporate executives and stripping away the rights of widows and every other victim of corporate misconduct…This decision was handed down by a group of judges who regularly accept campaign contributions from law firms representing corporations that appear in their courts. We will appeal this decision to the United States Supreme Court if necessary.[19]

All judicial challengers recruited and funded by the Texas plaintiff lawyers lost to the incumbent Texas Supreme Court justices who won the 2014 Texas election.[20]

School funding decision

In May 2016, in a 100-page ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that public school financing, a long-term political issue in Texas, is imperfect but constitutional. Specifically, the court ruled that the funding "satisfies minimum constitutional requirements." More than half of the school districts across the state had wanted the court to force the Texas State Legislature to guarantee equal tax revenues to wealthy and poorer districts alike. The court, which has only one Democrat member among the nine justices, said that legislators must tackle school funding and not expect the court to make specific policy decisions.[21]


  1. ^ http://www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/advisories/anniversary_011310.htm
  2. ^ Tex. Gov’t Code section 81.011.
  3. ^ Tex. Gov't Code sections 81.061 and 82.021
  4. ^ Tex. Gov't Code section 82.001
  5. ^ Tex. Gov't Code section 82.004.
  6. ^ a b c Steiner, Mark E. (February 1999). "Not Fade Away: The Continuing Relevance of 'Writ Refused' Opinions". The Appellate Advocate. 12: 3–6.  Available via HeinOnline.
  7. ^ Tex. Const., Art. 5, Sec. 2.
  8. ^ http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jpa01
  9. ^ "Hortense Sparks Ward (1875–1944)". Justices of Texas 1836–1986. Tarlton Law Library, The University of Texas at Austin. October 16, 2009. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Ruby Kless Sondock (born 1926)". Justices of Texas 1836–1986. Tarlton Law Library, The University of Texas at Austin. October 16, 2009. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  11. ^ Cruse, Don (January 8, 2008). "An Unusual History of Women Serving on the Texas Supreme Court". The Supreme Court of Texas Blog. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Texas Supreme Court Elections 2014". Judgepedia. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  13. ^ Yates, David (January 27, 2014). "Lanier Law Firm funding challengers in Texas Supreme Court's GOP primary". Legal Newsline Legal Journal. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Lawyer Cash, Racial Profiling Shape Supreme Court Races Plaintiff Lawyers, Strip-Club Mogul Fund GOP's John Devine" (PDF). Texans For Public Justice. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  15. ^ Trabulsi Jr., Richard. "Re-Election of Texas Supreme Court Justices in 2014 Is Critically Important". Texans for Lawsuit Reform: Political Action Committee. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Plaintiff Trial Lawyers Attempt to Distort Role of Judges and Juries". TLR: Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  17. ^ Berenson, Alex (May 30, 2008). "Courts Reject Two Major Vioxx Verdicts". New York Times.com. New York Times. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  18. ^ http://www.search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=96340519-ccd1-4d2d-b9cf-704a01f1a124&coa=coa14&DT=Opinion&MediaID=2923daf8-724a-4036-9392-09b63216ccd5
  19. ^ a b c Longstreth, Andrew (May 29, 2008). "Mark Lanier's Faith Tested: He Loses Two Vioxx Appeals in One Day". The AM Law Daily. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  20. ^ Bachelder, Kate (February 26, 2014). "Stacking the Texas Supreme Court". Parker County Blog. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  21. ^ Andrea Zelinski and Mike Ward, "School financing system left intact: Court says it's awful but constitutional", San Antonio Express-News, May 14, 2016, pp. 1, A7

Further reading

  • Haley, James L. The Texas Supreme Court: A Narrative History, 1836–1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013. xxviii, 322 pp.

External links

Texas Supreme Court History: Links to Resources [1]

Coordinates: 30°16′33″N 97°44′28″W / 30.275853°N 97.741054°W / 30.275853; -97.741054