Texas State Legislature sends an amendment to expand the authority of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to 2021 ballot

On May 22, the Texas State Legislature voted to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot that would expand the authority of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to state judicial candidates. The amendment would authorize the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to accept complaints regarding the conduct of candidates seeking judicial office and discipline candidates, in the same manner, the commission is currently authorized to do so with judicial officeholders. Currently, the Texas Constitution authorizes the commission to discipline sitting judges through involuntary retirement, censure, unpaid suspension, or removal from office once indicted by a state or federal grand jury for a felony offense or charged with a misdemeanor involving official misconduct.

The commission is made up of 13 members: six judges, two lawyers, and five members of the public. The judges are appointed by the state supreme court, the lawyers are appointed by the State Bar of Texas, and the members of the public are appointed by the governor.

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

This amendment was filed as House Joint Resolution 165 (HJR 165) on April 27, 2021. Representative Jacey Jetton (R) requested permission to introduce the bill after the March 12 deadline to submit constitutional amendments. On May 13, 2021, the state House passed HJR 165 in a vote of 137-0 with 13 not present or not voting. On May 22, 2021, the Senate approved HJR 165 by a vote of 31-0.

Texas is one of 16 states that requires a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber during one legislative session to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. That amounts to a minimum of 100 votes in the Texas House of Representatives and 21 votes in the Texas Senate, assuming no vacancies.

During the 2021 legislative session, 218 constitutional amendments were filed in the Texas State Legislature. The 2021 legislative session began on January 12, 2021, and will adjourn on May 31, 2021.

The Texas Legislature has also referred five other ballot measures to the November ballot. One other measure relates to the state judiciary. It would change the eligibility requirements for the following judicial offices: 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 other amendments relate to taxes, raffles at rodeo venues, and religious services.

Between 1995 and 2020, Texas voters approved 91% (154 of 169) and rejected 9% (15 of 169) of the constitutional amendments that appeared on statewide ballots.

Additional reading: