Following the recent withdrawal of a bill that would have allowed GOP lawmakers to redraw Texas’ appellate court districts to Republicans’ advantage, state Senate Republicans have surfaced a different approach to limiting the power of Democratic judges. Legislators passed a bill this week that would leave the current appeals court districts in place but create an entirely new appeals court with five judges elected statewide who would seize the existing court’s purview over lawsuits that challenge state laws or are directed at state agencies.
Such cases are currently heard mostly by the state’s 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, a district Republicans drew back in 2005 in part to dilute the impact of Democratic voters in Austin by combining them with rural, heavily Republican counties. But subsequent population growth in the suburbs, combined with a profound shift to the left among urban and suburban voters during the Trump era, saw Democrats gain control over this court district in 2018, which now has a 5-1 Democratic majority.
If this bill becomes law, those five new statewide judges would likely be Republicans, given that Democrats haven’t won a statewide election for any office in Texas since 1994. That may not last, however: The trends that saw the Austin court district shift from red to blue are playing out across the state as a whole, so switching to statewide elections could eventually backfire on the GOP. But before that day comes, Republicans could simply enact yet another change to keep the courts on their side.