The SFA Department of Government presented a lecture Monday by Texas Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright, who explained the responsibilities of the court and extolled the virtues of the Texas legal system.
Wainwright also asked the students and community members in attendance to appreciate the values and rights that allow diversity in public offices across the state. In a 2002 election, Wainwright defeated an East Texas judge to become the first non-incumbent black to serve on the state's highest court.
"Family is important, God is important, patriotism in our country and helping improve it and defend it are all important things," he said. "Those values are the reason why the glass ceiling can be broken and is being broken now."
After presenting his biography, Wainwright described the structure of the Texas justice system, including the supreme court, which receives requests to hear about 1,200 cases per year and which serves as the administrative body for all the state's lawyers and judges.
"There's a lot of litigation and legal issues in Texas to be decided, and we're trying to issue opinions that settle those issues and provide direction for the people, the lawyers and the judges in Texas so they'll know what the law is," Wainwright said. "If the case has legal issues that are going to affect a lot of people in Texas in important ways, then we'll take that case and decide it."
Besides hearing cases and issuing opinions, the court must also draft rules of procedure and evidence and serve as an administrative body for Texas justice. Wainwright spoke in detail about two commissions overseen by the court, an access to justice commission that provides free legal council to those who cannot afford it, and a commission on children, youth and families, which is primarily concerned with foster care.
"The whole purpose is to create a better system and a better life for these children in foster care," Wainwright said.
Though he is running for re-election this year, Wainwright only briefly touched on his campaign efforts while answering a student's questions about how politics affects judicial decision making.
"Yeah, you've got to pick a party and run, but once I'm on the bench, I treat everybody fairly and everybody gets justice," he said.
Texas differs from many other states, where judges are appointed and then kept in office by retention elections. In Texas, any challenger can attempt to win office in an election. Wainwright alluded to his opponent's inexperience while speaking Monday.
Wainwright also described the skepticism of friends and advisors in before he won his seat on the supreme court bench in the 2002 election. He said many considered his race to be a barrier to the high office.
"I just looked them in the eye and said, 'You've got to believe. You've got to believe there's a purpose bigger than all of us. And you've got to believe in Texas.'"
Wainwright also cited the election and appointment of other minorities and women to state level positions as evidence of Texas' values. "Those are the values that make our state, I think, the best state in the country."