The polls closed just minutes ago. Soon we will know if Texas voters have given me the honor of continued service as Chief Justice. I had two primary objectives in this campaign. First, I endeavored to respect Texans' desire for a judiciary that must account for its role in the administration of justice. Toward that end, I have described advances we have made since September 2004, when Governor Perry chose me to replace Chief Justice Tom Phillips. Today, our Court is more transparent than ever. Each oral argument is broadcast live and archived permanently on the Supreme Court's web site. The public can now witness judicial proceedings firsthand; they can watch the arguments, read the parties' briefs, and study the Court's opinions without cost. Transparent proceedings can only strengthen the public's respect for the third branch of government. We have created a permanent commission on children, youth, and families, so that children removed from the home through no fault of their own can be swiftly reunited with their families where appropriate, or find permanent adoptive homes. The Court has expanded access to justice for those who cannot afford legal services, and we have formed a task force to ensure that the judiciary is able to maintain essential operations during times of emergency.
My second objective was to invite a discourse about the manner in which we assign the grave responsibility of administering the third branch of government. We read every day about the political affiliation of judges. Many want judges only from "our" party, but that is not what I believe. Judges must have courage to disregard politics, monetary contributions, criticism or praise when deciding cases. The vast majority of our judges exhibit such courage routinely. Yet there is a perception, fueled by partisan campaigns, that Texas judges decide cases based not on the rule of law, but because they have the support of a political party or interest group. It is not true, but perception sometimes prevails over reality. And while Texans cherish their right to vote, it has become clear that in judicial elections, the public (particularly in large urban areas) cannot cast informed votes due to the sheer number of candidates on the ballot. This unfortunate fact gives rise to occasional partisan sweeps of the judiciary - we saw it in 1994, in 2006, and perhaps again this year. When it happens, judges are elected based not on merit or experience, but because their political party has managed to prevail.
This is a strange way to select those who guard our legal rights. It is time to decide whether partisan election is the best means to ensure judicial competence. If after this election I continue as Chief Justice, I will convene a summit of public citizens, officials, the media, lawyers, and various interest groups, and will ask them to debate judicial selection. I will also ask them to consider how best to finance a judicial campaign. We will present our conclusions to the Legislature, which is the only democratic body vested with the power to initiate any required constitutional reforms. Even if the Legislature elects to retain our current system, I hope that we can recommend reforms so that a vote for a judicial candidate is closely correlated with merit rather than political affiliation or other irrelevant factors.
I never imagined I would be a judge, much less Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I owe any success to the men and women who work here. They clean the Court, deliver the mail, draft opinions, file papers, lift morale, crunch the numbers, order supplies, craft the rules, organize charitable activities, guard our lives, oversee our technology, polish our image, reach out to the executive and legislative branches, administer our docket, and spend a year with us when they could start their careers making a fortune. I wish the public could see their devotion to justice, as I have for these last seven years. I am proud to have served with them, and am honored to call them friends.
Thank you for your encouragement during the campaign. I hope that you will continue to support the Chief, whoever it may be, as he begins a new term in 2009.
Wallace B. Jefferson
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Texas