Good Judges Matter
By Craig Enoch
Former Justice, Texas Supreme Court
Most Texans make sure they know their children's teachers before sending them to school. Most learn about their doctors before entrusting their health to them. We seek information about these professionals because they can impact our lives.
Likewise, every Texan should make a point to learn about the judges elected to the bench.
Judges make decisions that affect many aspects of our lives including the economy, schools, community safety and healthcare. Yet our judiciary is the least understood branch of government.
Our lack of knowledge and understanding shows at the ballot box. In the last presidential election, almost 500,000 of the 7.4 million Texas voters who went to the polls did not cast a ballot in the one contested race for Texas Supreme Court.
In non-presidential election years, the drop off from the top of the ticket to the judicial contests can range from between 100,000 to almost 1 million voters.
Why? A recent survey of Texas voters shows that while voters are interested in these contests, more than a third don't vote in these elections. Seventy-four percent of those voters who skip these contests, or vote in very few, say they simply don't know enough about the candidates to make an informed decision. The survey of 804 Texas voters, conducted by Base1ice & Associates from July 27-30, has a margin of error of ± 3.5 percent.
To combat this lack of information and centralize resources, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse has launched Good Judges Matter, a non-partisan, educational campaign to help voters learn more about statewide and local judicial candidates. Voters can access the information at www.tala.com.
While few of us will spend significant amounts of time in the courtroom, we all are affected by judges elected to our courts.
Texas judges at all levels wield considerable power, and their decisions can set important legal precedents. Judges also ensure all parties are treated fairly under the law and can choose to uphold or overturn laws passed by the Legislature.
In addition to administering justice for the truly injured, judges can spare us all the cost and consequence of lawsuit abuse by tossing baseless cases. For example, Corpus Christi Judge Janis Graham Jack dismissed nearly 10,000 silicosis cases, declaring that the diagnoses used in the cases had been "manufactured for money."
Although Judge Jack is an appointed federal judge, she's a good example of a judge who exercised sound judgment for the good of the people.
In November, the ballot will include three contested races for the Texas Supreme Court, in addition to candidates for local districts and courts of appeal. These elections give voters an important voice in determining who is protecting their interests in the legal system.
Between now and Election Day, voters should ask some important questions: Are the candidates qualified? What is their professional legal background? What is their judicial philosophy? How do they view the role of a judge?
Some judges are committed to applying the law as written; others seek to create new laws through their legal opinions. The latter makes the law unpredictable. The Legislature is charged with writing laws. Judges are empowered to interpret and apply them.
Given the importance of our nation's judicial system and the powers rightly bestowed on our judges, every Texan should do his or her part to learn about – and vote for – qualified judicial candidates. We make a point to be informed in matters that affect other areas of our lives.
Who presides over our courts should be no different, because good judges matter.
Austin attorney Craig Enoch, a shareholder in the law firm Winstead PC, is a former Texas Supreme Court Justice who also served as a district and appeals court judge during a total of 22 years on the bench.