The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002

Jacksonian Justice: The Evolution of the Elective
Judiciary in Texas, 183 6-185o
CHRIS KLEMME*
W ITH THE BRIEF EXCEPTION OF THE RECONSTRUCTION ERA, TEXAS
has selected its judiciary through popular election since 1850. The
popular election of the judiciary became a topic of controversy in legal
and political circles in the late twentieth century, especially in light of
increasingly politicized campaigns for what is theoretically a non-political
governmental office. The amount of special-interest money spent in judi-
cial campaigns and the use of increasingly aggressive rhetoric in judicial
elections are just some of the concerns of those who proposed reforming
the method of selection. Paramount among these is a genuine concern
for maintaining confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. Public confi-
dence in the judicial system, much like the other branches of govern-
ment, is integral to its effectiveness. On the other hand, proponents of
judicial elections argue that the people's right to directly select their
judges is a critical extension of their First Amendment rights of political
expression. Political donations to judicial campaigns are made to candi-
dates whose general political and judicial ideology are consistent with
those of the contributor. When a mode of selection allows interested liti-
gants to contribute to the campaigns of a judge in whose court a case is
pending, however, some people worry that a decision in favor of a politi-
cal contributor to that judge will lead to charges of corruption regardless
of the soundness of the court's legal reasoning.1
* Chris Klemme is a practicing attorney and a graduate student at the University of North
Texas. He wishes to thank Randolph B. Campbell for his guidance and encouragement and
Joseph McKnight for his constructive suggestions.
i Paul Womack, "Judiciary," in Ron Tyler, Douglas E. Barnett, Roy R. Barkley, Penelope C.
Anderson, and Mark F. Odintz (eds.) The New Handbook of Texas (6 vols.; Austin: Texas State
Historical Association, 1996), III, 1012-1014; Mary Alice Robbins, "Action Plan: Texas
Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips and State Senator Rodney Ellis Call for Summit on
Problems with Judicial Elections," Texas Lawyer, Sept. 18, 2000, pp. 1, 26; Sheila Kaplan and
Zoe Davidson, "The Buying of the Bench," The Nation, 266 (Jan. 26, i998), 12; Naftali
Bendavid, "Lawyers Study: Public Funds Should Finance Judicial Races," Dallas Morning News,
July 23, 2001, sec. A, p. 1.
VOL. CV, No. 3 SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY JANUARY, 2002

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/. Accessed July 29, 2015.