Justice for All?

In Texas we take pride in the fact that we elect our judges and they are accountable to the people, but it’s difficult to know for whom to vote. In fact, that is one of the very few things on which the Texas Republican and Democratic Parties agree. It is not uncommon for Texans to speak with disdain about federal judges who enjoy lifetime appointments and often make rulings that seem to have no connection to reality.

This does not mean that we don’t have problems related to our judges. Some years ago the Texas Supreme Court was the focus of a national news story called “Justice for Sale.” That story focused attention on the problems with that court and elections eventually replaced those judges.

In this year’s Republican Primary, there is no race more important to the defense of parental rights than the race between Judge Al Scoggins and his incumbent opponent. There is no better illustration of this fact than the actions of both candidates in the case of In re B.R.S., in which embattled parents were forced to defend their parental rights against the intrusion of non-parents.

The case originated in Judge Scoggins’s Court, where he protected the parents’ rights in properly ruling the applicable statute facially unconstitutional (meaning the statute could not be in any way construed so as to be deemed constitutional). By contrast, when the case was appealed, Judge Felipe Reyna refused to even conduct a legal analysis of the statute – and reversed Judge Al Scoggins’s ruling. That’s not my opinion. It’s the opinion of the Waco Court’s Chief Justice, who strongly admonished Reyna in his written dessent.

As we focus on parental rights, it has become more and more clear that our problem is not limited to statewide and appellate judges. We have local judges who hear CPS cases and routinely allow CPS to violate the requirements of the law. Some judges will even allow ex parte hearings in which the family is not notified or represented at the hearing and the judge then issues an order that impacts that family.

Two years ago we began to get involved in some of these races, not just the statewide races but local judicial races. We endorsed a challenger to a local judge who by many accounts was arrogant and unfair in his courtroom – especially in regard to parental rights issues. Some home schoolers went to church with the incumbent judge and called to assure us that he was “home school friendly.” He may have articulated that position, but his record was decidedly different. His challenger defeated the incumbent decisively. This judge was later called The Worst Judge in Collin County.

I am working with local leaders who spend time vetting these local judicial candidates and looking at their records, not just at what they say. THSC PAC will not endorse in many of these races; but in those where we find a candidate who has the qualifications and understanding of the law and a commitment to interpret the law justly and respect parental rights, we will endorse. Just as we hold legislators accountable for their actions, so too must we require judges to give an account.