AUSTIN – With Republicans holding all nine seats on the Texas Supreme
Court, there probably will not be a lot of big business spending in that
election in the near future, according to the director of research for legal
progress at the Center for American Progress.
Billy Corriher told the Southeast Texas Record that while big
business is still dominating state supreme court races across the country, Texas
has been neglected recently because of its lock on the judges’ seats.
Republicans hold a 9-0 majority on the court.
“Texas historically has seen a lot of money in state supreme court races, but not in recent years,” Corriher said. “As state’s demographics
change, maybe the money will start flowing again.”
The money is flowing in other states, according to the
Center for American Progress’ biannual analysis of judicial campaign spending.
A recent column by Corriher detailed the contributions to and independent
spending for judges who were elected with more than $1 million in campaign cash
in Michigan, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina and
The continued rise in judicial campaign cash should lead judges
and legislators to address the resulting conflicts of interest, Corriher wrote.
Stricter ethics rules can help keep judges from hearing cases involving campaign donors.
“There are a lot of folks in Texas who recognize that money
in state supreme court races is a problem,” he said. “One thing that is kind of
promising is the justices talking about enacting tougher ethics rules.”
Another solution is to limit state supreme court judges to
one, long term, Corriher said.
“That’s a great way to get rid of the pressure, once the
judge is on the bench, to raise money for re-election,” he said. “We want that
judge, once they’re on the bench, to be free of any concerns of where they’re going
to get money for their next election.”
Corriher said this is the third time that the Center for
American Progress has done a column like this, looking at the spending on state
supreme court judge races.
Texas judge Don Willett was featured in The Million Dollar
Judges of 2012 issue. Corriher wrote that Willet won re-election that year,
raising $1.7 million for a primary contest. That included almost $100,000 from
energy companies, as well as large contributions from the industry’s top law
firms. Willett has received more than $250,000 from energy companies over the
years, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
appointed to the Supreme Court of Texas in August 2005, elected to a full term
in November 2006 and re-elected in 2012. He is on President-elect Donald Trump’s
list of possible U.S. Supreme Court Justice picks, Corriher said.
Willett, he said,
was elected with millions of dollars from big business groups, specifically oil
“A couple of decisions that he’s made have been very favorable
to the oil and gas industry,” Corriher said. “That’s not to say he made those decisions
because of oil and gas money. But it certainly raises the question.”