Ordering the Courts: Right Wing Attacks on Judicial Independence in 2000

Texas

Two Republican judges in Texas were attacked in 2000 over a ruling that conflicted with the ideology of religious conservatives in the state party. During the Texas Republican Party state convention, delegates attacked Chief Justice Paul C. Murphy and Justice John Anderson of the Fourteenth District Court of Appeals. Delegates rebuked Murphy and Anderson and officially opposed their re-election because the two had voted to overturn the sodomy conviction of two Houston men. Their ruling that the Texas law violated the Equal Rights Amendment of the state’s constitution angered many in the Republican Party, which included language attacking “activist judges who use their power to usurp the clear will of the people” in its platform. 13 The platform went on to urge that “ … all members of the Republican Party of Texas oppose their re-election, and [that of] activist judges like them….”14

Though Anderson was unopposed for re-election, Harris County Republican Party Chairman Gary Pollard, urged Anderson to either change his ruling or step down. In a letter, Pollard told Anderson that his ruling had no legal basis and that it amounted to “the worst kind of judicial activism.”15 Pollard circulated the letter to thirteen other county chairmen, but when several refused to sign it, the issue was dropped. Murphy was not targeted, as his term runs through 2002.

Elsewhere, local Republican leaders defied their own governor and presidential candidate, by rejecting his appointee to the bench in the recently created 400th District Court. Then-Governor George W. Bush appointed Vicki Pinak in May and she took office on September 1, 2000, although the post was up for election in November. State law allows local parties to make nominations for such positions, but instead of naming Pinak, the county’s Republican leaders chose Judge Bradley Smith, who had actively campaigned among the party's executive committee for the nomination. Smith also had the backing of Fort Bend County Christian Coalition founder Norm Mason. Mason, in turn, campaigned for Smith’s nomination by sending letters to committee members saying, “You will be asked to rubber-stamp the temporary assignment made by the governor’s ‘advisors’ because it came from ‘higher up.’ I hope you will look to an even Higher Authority to guide your decision.”16 The committee voted 44 to 41 to nominate Smith.

Soon thereafter, several committee members sought a new vote after learning more about Smith’s background, especially an earlier bankruptcy filing and divorce, complaining that they had been “hoodwinked” due to a lack of information. In the midst of the controversy, Smith asked the state Supreme Court to compel Eric Thode, chairman of the Fort Bend County Republican Party, to certify him as the party’s nominee in the November election. The party, in turn, filed a request for a dismissal of Smith’s plea and the court rejected Smith’s motion. The committee then met on August 10th to reconsider Smith’s nomination and voted, by a larger margin than before (46-39), to retain him as the nominee. Smith won election in November.

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