Texas legislature sends amendment to change eligibility requirements for certain judicial offices to voters in November

On May 18, the Texas State Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment that would change 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. The changes include: 

• requiring candidates to be residents of Texas as well as citizens of the United States;

• requiring 10 years of experience in Texas as a practicing lawyer or judge of a state or county court for candidates of the supreme court;

• requiring 8 years of experience in Texas as a practicing lawyer or judge of a state or county court for candidates of a district court; and

• disqualifying candidates if their license to practice law was revoked or suspended during their experience requirement.

The changes would apply to judges elected or appointed to first terms on or after January 1, 2025. The amendment would also change gendered language used in the section of the state constitution to gender-neutral language.

Currently, the state constitution requires judges to be a citizen of the United States and Texas. The present constitution also requires that a judge has been either a practicing lawyer or a lawyer and judge of a court of record together for at least 10 years for a supreme court justice and four years for a district judge.

Across the state’s appellate and trial courts, there are nine supreme court justices, nine criminal appeals judges, 80 appeals court judges, and 448 district court judges.

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67%) supermajority vote is required in both the Texas State Senate and the Texas House of Representatives.

This amendment was filed as Senate Joint Resolution 47 (SJR 47) on March 8, 2021. On April 27, 2021, the state Senate passed SJR 47 in a vote of 30-1. On May 18, 2021, the House approved SJR 47 by a vote of 120-19 with 11 not present or not voting.

This was the third constitutional amendment to be referred to the November 2021 ballot in Texas. Voters will also be deciding amendments regarding restrictions on religious services and extending a homestead tax limit to the surviving spouses of disabled individuals.

Between 1995 and 2020 in Texas, ballots featured an average of 13 ballot measures. During the 2021 legislative session, 218 constitutional amendments were filed in the Texas State Legislature. Legislators were permitted to file constitutional amendments through March 12, 2021, unless permission was given to introduce an amendment after the deadline. Between 2009 and 2019, an average of 192 constitutional amendments were filed during regular legislative sessions. The state legislature approved an average of nine constitutional amendments during regular legislative sessions. Therefore, the average rate of certification during regular legislative sessions was 4.7%.

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