The Texas Supreme Court has a unique structure, reflecting the state’s stubbornly independent-minded culture. Most state supreme courts have jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases and have seven (or fewer) members, who are appointed by the governor and face the voters — if at all — only for periodic “retention” elections. The Texas Supreme Court, in contrast, hears only civil appeals (criminal cases are decided by the co-equal Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) and has nine members, all of whom are subject to statewide partisan elections. The last feature is quite unusual; only seven states select judges in this manner. Despite this distinctive design, the Texas Supreme Court succeeds at steering a steady jurisprudential course in a cautious, low-key style.
Brazen judges openly legislating from the bench are confirming the widely-held public perception that activist courts are out of control. As a lawyer practicing for three decades in the plaintiff-friendly stronghold of California, within the jurisdiction of the notorious Ninth Circuit, I witnessed many instances of judges—state and federal—slanting their decisions against disfavored parties, such as insurance companies, corporate employers, and deep-pocketed defendants.
A lot has changed in Houston, Texas over the past 100 years. For one, the city’s population is now about seventeen times what it was in 1917. We’ve found better ways to beat the year-round heat than 300-pound blocks of ice, thankfully. And you don’t see too many horses and buggies riding down Houston’s Westheimer Road anymore. But one institution that has stood the test of time, and is still up-and-running on its 100th anniversary this month, is Houston’s Ellington Field--and you could say its history is the story of a lifetime.
The legal academy is a strange place. It differs from other intellectual disciplines in that legal scholarship is published mainly in student-edited law reviews, not peer-reviewed journals. Most faculty members at elite law schools have never practiced law, or have done so only briefly and usually without professional distinction. The curricula at many of the nation’s law schools are larded with trendy courses devoted to identity politics and social issues du jour. Elite law schools eschew the teaching of “nuts and bolts” fundamentals, deriding such practical instruction as resembling a “trade school.”
First, we get hit with high-intensity storms that pummeled parts of our state in previous weeks with large hail. Next, we get soaked by storm-chasing personal injury lawyers looking to line their pockets. Texas is taking a pounding, and it’s time for the Texas Legislature to do their part to stop it. Since we can’t control the weather, let’s tackle abusive hail storm lawsuits and enact smart reforms.
The latest tract by Erwin Chemerinsky, liberal law professor and dean of the University of California at Irvine School of Law, is depressingly familiar. Like his Enhancing Government: Federalism for the 21st Century (2008), The Conservative Assault on the Constitution (2011), and The Case Against the Supreme Court (2014), his new book is a diatribe masquerading as legal scholarship. The usual villains—conservative Supreme Court justices, malevolent government officials, rapacious corporations, racist police officers—are pitted against the wrongly accused, helpless consumers, and oppressed victims of discrimination.
In a prior post, I discussed the Pidgeon v. Turner case, now pending before the Texas Supreme Court, involving a taxpayer challenge to same-sex spousal benefits. Oral argument was held on March 1. The taxpayers challenging the city of Houston’s policy of granting same-sex spousal benefits to city employees were represented at oral argument by Jonathan Mitchell, a former Scalia clerk, former Texas solicitor general, and now a visiting professor at Stanford law school. The city of Houston was represented by Douglas Alexander, a leading appellate practitioner in an Austin law firm whose partners include former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. The oral argument was superb, and both counsel fielded numerous questions from the fully-engaged justices.
The disquieting spectacle of three unelected judges (all appointed by President Barack Obama) enjoining the signature initiative of the newly inaugurated President Donald Trump, without even citing the statute—8 U.S.C. section 1182(f)—that expressly authorizes the action they just stopped, has focused public attention as never before on the threat posed by liberal judicial activism to our system of self-government.
Newspapers have dedicated many inches of column space in the course of covering my office’s entanglements with the federal government. So much so, residents might be tempted to believe that pushing back against the regulatory leviathan was the attorney general’s principal, if not sole, responsibility. The truth is, however, that these lawsuits represent but a slender slice of what is entrusted to our care.
The Supreme Court’s fractured decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) required states to recognize same-sex marriage. Obergefell came less than 30 years after Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the court refused to recognize a right to engage in homosexual sodomy. In changing its mind, the Court effectively amended the U.S. Constitution with its Delphic utterances.
TC Heartland v. Kraft: Awaiting a 2017 Supreme Court Decision with Potentially Significant Implications for Patent Litigation
Patent litigation continues to be concentrated in a small number of venues. Of the 4530 patent cases filed in 2016, for example, patentees chose the Eastern District of Texas more than one third of the time (1661 cases).1 In fact, patentees filed three quarters of all patent cases last year in only 10 of the 94 available venues.2
President Trump’s nomination of 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court will be met by fierce resistance by Democrats in the Senate and unrelenting demagoguery from left-wing groups and media outlets. About that there can be no doubt. (American Greatness readers may recall a reference to Gorsuch in my December 22 article, “The Trump Court: SCOTUS Could Stand Some Disruption.”)
Storm-chasing trial lawyers are constantly evolving their tactics. While these efforts have proven lucrative for the handful of lawyers willing to push the boundaries of lawful practice and professional ethics, they have widespread consequences for the Texans being caught in the maelstrom of their litigation tactics.