It doesn't grab the headlines, but judicial elections in America these days are just as much about the lawmaking as it is about law interpreting.
With the media masses laser-focused on the race for the White House and top ticket races like the re-election run of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, hotly-contested district judicial elections stayed unnoticed in the media shadows.
Yet here in Texas, the local judicial races made for dramatic politics in 2008.
At the center of Tuesday's drama: Houston's Harris County, once a solid Republican bastion.
President-Elect Barack Obama became the first Democrat president to win there in 44 years. On his coattails 22 Democrat judges were swept into office last Tuesday. In all, the GOP won only four of 26 Harris County contested judicial races.
In the post-election analysis, pundits and partisans alike lamented that many good judges were voted out in the Democrat sweep. The analysts noted that deposed Houston Republican judges are being replaced by lawyers who are young and relatively inexperienced--so called "baby judges"--who won primarily because they had a "D" next to their name on the ballot. They warn that our courts will suffer from the changeover, as these newbies take time-- years even--getting acclimated to new responsibilities.
The voters spoke. As we opined last week, partisan judicial elections aren't perfect. But electing our judges remains the best way for the people to choose the lawyers who interpret the law.
Democrats and Republicans often interpret the law differently. This year voters wanted almost everything Democrat. And they got it.
That's good for those who abhor what the GOP thinks of as the "law and order" approach to judging. And it's great for trial lawyers, who have invested millions in the Democrat party in hope of a day like today. It seems to follow that it will be easier to file civil lawsuits and pursue mass torts under the new regime, making Houston's courts much more like Beaumont's.
Time will tell whether the voters like the change.