The American judiciary system has two systems, which are federal and state courts systems. The difference between federal and county court system is powers allocated for each. Federal courts formation is under constitutional mandate of federal government judiciary. Meanwhile, the state court systems formation is under judiciary chapter of state government constitutions. State government judiciary undertake judicial responsibility not allocated to federal judiciary system under federal constitution.
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Federal court system consists of U.S. district courts, U.S. circuit courts of appeal, U.S. court of appeal, U.S. court of claims and U.S. court of international trade. Texas court system consists of a number of courts including, courts of limited jurisdiction, county courts, courts of general jurisdiction, intermediate court of appeals and highest appellate courts that are Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of criminal appeals.
They are three main models of choice of judges, which are merit choice, appointment and choice. Merit choice approach to judge choice development was in 1913 initially, but adoption was until 1940, Missouri. Election of judges under merit choice lacks political interference unlike other modes of choice. In appointment choice, governors politically appoint judges to their given jurisdiction vacancies. In judge choice through election, judge’s choice is by popular vote.
With exception of municipal courts, the Texas courts of limited jurisdiction, county courts, courts of general jurisdiction, intermediate and highest appellate courts carry out partisan elections to choose judges. In partisan choice, judge choice is by ability to fundraise highest for their party within their jurisdiction level. In addition to this, their party uptake in the state assembly will decide their eventual choice.
These affect judiciary in a two-prong way that is judicial candidates have to align with a particular party and secondly, they have to seek funds from special interest groups and business people. The question that arises is whether the judges will remain judicial independent when they face cases from parties, or people who contributed to their campaign. Secondly, judges who provide quality judgments laden with experience miss selection in favor of higher party contributors.
The result of partisan choice of Texas State judiciary is a public perception of it being pro-money, in the market for highest bidders. An additional view is that of Texas judiciary being pro-plaintiff awarding favorable judgments to plaintiff contributors of the judiciary. Citizens’ trust and confidence in Texas State courts is at a low due to these anomalies that partisan choice creates in the judicial system.
Political influence in Texas judicial system is a cause of alarm. Among spirited campaigners against partisan election, include former Texas State Supreme Court Chief Justice Phillips who frowned upon the effect of campaign money in partisan judicial elections, Texas.
The American Bar Association (ABA) acting on findings of its Task Force on Lawyers Political Contributions altered its model ethics code. It set contribution limits, initiated judge campaign disclosures standards and proposed judge self-disqualification from hearing cases of judge campaign participants. It further declared its commitment to the merit election of judges. Enjoining in the fray are community welfare groups.
U.S. citizens residing in Texas will not enjoy their full legal benefits if partisan election of judges does not change to merit selection. It also goes against a basic right of the constitution, which provides for right of a fair hearing before a neutral judge.