Stories about Texas

Texas Gov. Abbott appoints Rebeca Huddle to replace Justice Paul Green on state supreme court

On October 15, 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) appointed Rebeca Huddle to replace Justice Paul Green on the Texas Supreme Court.

Justice Green announced his retirement from the Texas Supreme Court in August 2020.

Huddle is a Republican who served as a justice on Texas’ First District Court of Appeals. She graduated from Stanford University and the University of Texas School of Law. Upon her appointment, Huddle said, “I understand the magnitude of the trust and responsibility that the governor is placing in me and in every justice of the Supreme Court, and I’ll work hard every day to earn that trust anew.”

Huddle will face a retention election in 2022 to keep her seat on the court.

Abbott said, “Rebeca is a first-generation American. Her mother emigrated from Juarez to Texas and later became a naturalized citizen. Rebeca’s father passed away when she was just 5 years old … Although her mother never graduated from high school, she worked tirelessly as a seamstress in a factory in El Paso to provide for Rebeca and her four siblings.”

Abbott has appointed three others to fill vacancies on the all-Republican appointed Texas Supreme Court since taking office in 2015. He appointed Justices Jane Bland, Brett Busby and Jimmy Blacklock.

Four justices on the Texas Supreme Court face re-election in 2020: Jeffrey S. Boyd, Brett Busby, Nathan Hecht, Jane Bland.

Additional Reading:

Signatures verified for municipal recall effort in Granite Shoals, Texas

An effort in Granite Shoals, Texas, to recall Mayor Carl Brugger and Councilman Bruce Jones was approved for the ballot after petitioners submitted enough valid signatures. The recall election against Jones will be held on May 1, 2021. Brugger resigned on Oct. 13, 2020, four days after the signatures were verified.

Brugger cited the recall effort as a reason for his resignation. He wrote in his resignation letter that he hoped that stepping down would reduce tensions in the city. Brugger was first elected in 2015 and would have been unable to run for re-election in 2021 due to term limits.

The recall effort was initiated by the Citizens’ Rights Group of Granite Shoals in August 2020 in response to a unanimous vote by the city council on Aug. 4 to give City Manager Jeff Looney a $37,000 raise and four weeks of vacation. On Aug. 11, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Davant made a motion to rescind the pay increase. The motion was seconded by Councilman Ron Munos, but the motion failed by a 5-2 vote. Brugger, Jones and Councilmembers Libby Edwards, Steve Hougen and Will Skinner voted against the motion.

Davant defended the decision to vote in favor of a raise for Looney. He said, “He’s done an excellent job. He has 34 years of experience, and he has a good education. We did a survey with a third party. They came back with midpoints, minimums, and maximums. When we looked, Jeff Looney was at rock bottom. I know people are critiquing us. It’s easy to pick cities in West Texas (to compare to Granite Shoals). Those cities aren’t adjacent to Austin and to us, and they don’t have the cost of living we have here.”

Recall organizers were required to submit valid signatures equal to 6.5% of the city’s registered voters—152 signatures—to force a recall election. On Oct. 9, 2020, City Secretary Elaine Smith announced that 186 signatures were found valid out of the 221 signatures handed in.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

Additional reading:

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear case challenging Chevron deference

On October 5, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge against Chevron deference brought by the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas. The association had asked whether courts should give Chevron deference to agency legal interpretations that are different from previous agency interpretations.

Chevron deference is an approach to judicial review that compels federal courts to yield to a federal agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous or unclear statute instead of using the courts’ own interpretation. Judicial deference is one of the five pillars key to understanding the main areas of debate about the nature and scope of the administrative state.

The challenge to Chevron came out of a decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The association argued in its petition to the U.S. Supreme Court that the D.C. Circuit should not have upheld the rule under Chevron. The petition says, “the court of appeals chose to ‘skip’ Chevron step one, brushed aside canons of statutory construction, and looked past what it acknowledged was a legal error in a key premise of the agency’s rulemaking—the agency’s insistence that its new regulation merely clarified, and was consistent with, existing policy. In numerous ways, this ruling conflicts with decisions from other circuits and this Court.

Judge Karen Henderson, a George H.W. Bush appointee, wrote the opinion for the D.C. Circuit saying, “The familiar Chevron framework guides our review.” She held that the statute was clear, so the court needed only to decide whether the agency’s interpretation was reasonable. Henderson wrote that the rule was consistent with the Medicaid law and upheld it.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the case, the 2019 decision of the D.C. Circuit will remain in effect.

To learn more about Chevron deference or judicial deference, see here:

Luther, Springer advance to runoff in Texas’ State Senate District 30 special election

Shelley Luther (R) and Drew Springer (R) will advance to a runoff in Texas’ State Senate District 30 special election. As of 10:30 p.m. EST with 97% of precincts reporting, Luther and Springer had each received 32% of the vote, respectively. Jacob Minter (D) followed with 21%. No other candidate received over 10% of the vote.

The winner will replace Pat Fallon (R) for the remainder of his term, expiring in 2023. Fallon submitted his letter of resignation on August 22, effective January 4, after he was nominated to run in the general election for Texas’ 4th Congressional District.

Special election to be held Sept. 29 in Texas state Senate district

A special election is being held on September 29 for District 30 of the Texas State Senate. Jacob Minter (D), Craig Carter (R), Andy Hopper (R), Shelley Luther (R), Drew Springer (R), and Christopher Watts (R) are running in the special election. A general election runoff will be scheduled if no candidate receives a majority of the vote.

The seat became vacant after the resignation of Pat Fallon (R). Fallon submitted his letter of resignation on August 22, with an effective date of resignation on January 4. On August 8, local Republican Party county and precinct chairs selected Fallon to replace incumbent John Ratcliffe on the general election ballot for Texas’ 4th Congressional District after Ratcliffe withdrew from the race, following his confirmation as director of national intelligence.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 19-12 majority in the Texas Senate. Texas has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of September, 58 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2020 in 26 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

Additional reading:
State legislative special elections, 2020
Texas State Senate
Texas State Senate District 30

One month on, no declared winner in GOP primary runoff to succeed Rep. Hurd in Texas

The Republican primary runoff in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District was held between Tony Gonzales and Raul Reyes Jr. on July 14, 2020. One month later, as of August 14, the race to succeed outgoing Rep. Will Hurd (R) remains too close to call.

Gonzales, a U.S. Navy veteran, was endorsed by President Donald Trump (R), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Hurd, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Reyes, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Texas Right to Life, and Young Conservatives of Texas. Both candidates said they would be a stronger supporter of and more effective ally to President Trump.

The Republican Party of Texas certified Gonzales as the winner on July 31. At the time, unofficial vote totals showed him leading by 45 votes out of more than 24,500 cast. Reyes filed a request for a recount on August 3.

In the March 3 Republican primary, Gonzales and Reyes led the nine-candidate field with 28.1% and 23.3% of the vote, respectively. Third-place candidate Alma Arredondo-Lynch and ninth-place Darwin Boedeker both endorsed Gonzales.

The winner will face Democratic nominee Gina Ortiz Jones in the general election. Jones was the Democratic nominee in 2018, losing to Hurd by a margin of 0.5 percentage points. Texas’ 23rd District is one of five nationwide that is currently represented by a Republican and backed Hillary Clinton (D) in the 2016 presidential election.

Additional reading:

Texas Court of Appeals judge killed in accident

Appellate judge David Bridges (R), who sat in Place 1 on the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals, was killed on July 25 when an individual driving under the influence of alcohol hit Bridges as he was driving on the freeway. Bridges had served on the court since 1996.

Bridges was running for re-election to his seat on the court and advanced unopposed from the Republican primary on March 3. He was to face Democratic candidate Craig Smith, a judge of the Texas 192nd District Court, in the general election on November 3. Because of the timing of Bridges’ death, Republican Party committee officials from his district will nominate a replacement candidate to appear on the general election ballot. They have until August 24 to submit the nomination.

The Texas Fifth Court of Appeals is one of 14 intermediate appellate courts in Texas. Judges run in partisan elections to serve six-year terms on the court. Of the 12 judges currently sitting on the court, eight are affiliated with the Democratic Party and four are affiliated with the Republican Party.

Additional reading:

Texas Supreme Court Justice Green to retire in August

Texas Supreme Court Justice Paul Green is retiring on August 31, 2020. Green joined the court in 2005 after winning election to the position on November 2, 2004. Before that, he served for 10 years as a justice on the Texas Fourth District Court of Appeals, taking the bench after being elected in 1994. He also worked in private practice. Green received his B.A. in business administration from the University of Texas at Austin in 1974. In 1977, he earned his J.D. from Saint Mary’s University School of Law.

In the event of a midterm vacancy, Texas Supreme Court justices are chosen by gubernatorial appointment with confirmation by the state Senate. The appointee serves until the next general election, in which he or she must compete in a partisan election to serve for the remainder of the unexpired term. Green’s replacement will be Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) fourth nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

Texas is one of two states (along with Oklahoma) with two courts of last resort. Founded in 1836, the Texas Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort for civil matters. Founded in 1876, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the state’s court of last resort for criminal matters. Both courts have nine judgeships each.

In addition to Justice Green, the Texas Supreme Court currently includes the following justices:
• Nathan Hecht – Elected in 1988
• Eva Guzman – Appointed by Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2009
• Debra Lehrmann – Appointed by Gov. Perry in 2010
• Jeffrey S. Boyd – Appointed by Gov. Perry in 2012
• John Devine – Elected in 2012
• Jimmy Blacklock – Appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in 2018
• Jane Bland – Appointed by Gov. Abbott in 2019
• Brett Busby – Appointed by Gov. Abbott in 2019

In 2020, there have been 19 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Twelve vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Six are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

Additional reading:

Texas Sen. Lucio wins Democratic primary runoff against Stapleton-Barrera

On July 14, incumbent Texas Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-27) defeated challenger Sara Stapleton-Barrera (D) in Senate District 27’s Democratic primary runoff. Lucio received 54 percent of the vote to Stapleton-Barrera’s 46 percent.
The runoff in District 27 received media attention after Planned Parenthood Texas, which endorsed Stapleton-Barrera, created a website and other materials opposing Lucio. One ad said, “For 30 years, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. has done the dirty work of extremist politicians like Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott.” The Dallas Morning News’ Allie Morris wrote, “A devout Catholic, [Sen. Lucio] is often the lone Democrat to side with ruling Republicans on contentious social issues, including abortion.”
In a press release from Lucio’s campaign, his son, Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-38) said, “These big special-interests groups from outside our border community should comprehend the deeper connotations behind the word ‘sucio’ (‘dirty Mexican’) and the association with a person of Hispanic descent.”
District 27 is located south of Corpus Christi along the Gulf Coast and includes communities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Roughly 89 percent of the district’s population are Hispanic.
In total, 16 Senate seats were up for election this year. Two incumbents—Lucio and Sen. Borris Miles (D-13)—faced primary challengers, down from the seven incumbents challenged in 2018. Miles received 55 percent of the vote on March 3, defeating two challengers and avoiding a runoff.
With both incumbents winning their respective primaries, no Senators were defeated in Texas’ primary elections this year. The most recent year an incumbent Senator was defeated in a primary was 2014 when Republican Sens. John Carona and Bob Deuell lost to challengers. No incumbent Democratic Senator has been defeated in a primary since 2006.