2014 APPELLATE RACES: REPUBLICANS KEEP TIGHT GRIP ON HIGHEST COURTS, AND WIN ALL BUT ONE COURT OF APPEALS RACE
Republicans remain firmly in control of the state's two highest courts and courts of last resort: Supreme Court of Texas and Court of Criminal Appeals. The members of both courts are elected statewide.
SUPREME COURT AND CCA RACES: WIDE MARGINS OF VICTORY
In the Supreme Court races, three of the Republican incumbents did better than Greg Abbott in this bid for the governorship, but only in terms of winning percentages. The raw vote totals for the judicial candidates were lower, except for Phil Johnson, who did not draw a Democratic challenger. The same pattern holds for the CCA. The candidates who did not draw a Democratic opponent garnered higher total vote numbers, and a higher percentage of the vote than the successful Republican contender in the gubernatorial race.
COURTS OF APPEALS
Member of the courts of appeals are elected from their respective appellate districts. This means that they are more competitive, - at least some of them, but not always.
In San Antonio (4thCOA), Republican Sandee Bryan Marion defeated Democrat Irene Rios with 55.50% of the vote. This was the judicial equivalent of an open-seat contest following Chief Justice Catherine Stone's decision not to seek re-election.
The Third Court of Appeals in Austin also featured an open contest for chief justice: Republican Justice Jeff Rose, a sitting member of the court, defeated Democrat Diane Henson, a former member of the Austin Court, with 54.14% of the vote versus Henson's 45.85%. Chief Justice J. Woodfin "Woodie" Jones had decided not to stand for re-election. The outcome will give the new governor an opportunity to make an appointment for the position vacated by Rose upon ascension to the position of chief.
In Houston, Republican Chief Justice Kem Thompson Frost successfully defended against Democrat Kyle Carter, a Harris County District Court judge first elected in 2008, with 57.59% of the vote. Incumbent Ken Wise, formerly a District Court Judge in Harris County, prevailed over his Democratic opponent Gordon Goodman with 58.24% of the vote.
The only incumbent Democrat on the First Court of Appeals, also in Houston, lost to Republican challenger Russell Lloyd. The vote was 57.13% for Lloyd, and 42.86% for Jim Sharp, who was elected to the appellate court in 2008, when Democrats also swept Republican judges from their benches in Harris County, which went with Obama, while much of Texas voted for McCain. In that election, Sharp was the only Democrat to win an appellate bench in the Houston Court of Appeals district which includes Harris County and nine surrounding counties, including Fort Bend, Montgomery, and Galveston.
In Dallas Craig Stoddart, recently appointed by Governor Rick Perry to fill a vacancy, prevailed with 55.59% over Ken Molberg in the contest involving the unexpired term.
In Corpus Christi (13thCOA), Democratic incumbent Dori Contreras Garza won reelection to Place 6 on the Thirteenth Court of Appeals -- but just barely -- with 50.96% of the vote, less than 2% over Doug Norman, her Republican opponent. The difference was less than 5000 votes (based on unofficial results as of 11/22/2014).
In sum, Republicans won all appellate races save one. Of only two Democratic incumbents in these races, one lost.
DATA SOURCE: Unofficial 2014 General Election Results from the Texas Secretary of State
Judicial races are down-ballot races that are driven by straight-ticket voting and partisan tides. That does not make candidate-specific attributes, incumbents’ record and standing with the attentive public, or campaign efforts by them or on their behalf irrelevant, but it makes these factors more important when contests are close. This may not have been the case in 2014 (even without the benefit of hindsight), but 2008 was another matter. Unsurprisingly, Democratic candidates for judicial positions did better in a presidential election that turned the White House back over to a Democrat, but not everywhere. Much has to do with the electoral geography of Texas.
LOOKING BACK: 2008 DEMOCRATIC WINS IN APPELLATE COURT RACES, AND MARGINS OF VICTORY THEN
In 2008, Obama did not win Texas (55.45% of the statewide vote went to McCain), but a number of Democrats were elected or re-elected to court of appeals benches with votes shares ranging from just barely over 50% to as high as 66.48%.
Democratic challenger Woodie Jones unseated incumbent Republican Chief Justice Ken Law in Austin (3rd Court of Appeals) with 52.40% of the vote.
In San Antonio, Democrat Catherine Stone, originally appointed to a vacancy by Governor Ann Richards in 1994, prevailed over Republican Ann Comerio in the contest for Chief Justice of the Fourth Court of Appeals with 55.81% of the vote.
In El Paso (8th Court of Appeals), Democrat Guadalupe “Lupe” Rivera put Republican Kenneth R. “Kenn” Carr in the shade with a 66.48% landslide.
In Corpus Christi, Dori Contreras Garza beat Republican Caroline Bertuzzi with 58.58% of the vote.
In Houston, Democrat Jim Sharp beat Republican Ed Hubbard in the contest for a position on the First Court of Appeals with a narrow margin (50.57%). Hubbard had defeated the incumbent in the Republican primary. Republican incumbent Laura Carter Higley, who was also up for reelection, was able to hold on to her bench with 51.23% of the vote, warding off a challenge by Leslie C. Taylor.
On the sister court in the same city, the Fourteenth Court of Appeal, incumbent Chief Adele Hedges faced a challenge by Democrat Joe W. Beverly and survived -- but just barely – with 50.96% of the vote. Three other Republican incumbents on that court also held on to their positions, all with less than 52% of the vote. The margins of victory and mixed outcome (first Democrat elected to one of two previously all-Republican appellate courts) made Houston the most competitive appellate battleground in the 2008 general election. In Harris County, the partisan tide had a much more sweeping impact on the district courts because Harris County voted for Obama, though the surrounding counties (which are part of the appellate district that elects the members of the 1st and 14th Court of Appeals) did not.
In Dallas, Republicans won all three appellate races with more than 52% of the vote. Republican Rex Davis on the 10th Court of Appeals in Waco cruised to victory with the highest margin on the Republican side: 63.92% of the vote.
2014 TEXAS JUDICIAL ELECTION LINKS:
Texas Appellate Law Blog (blogpost summarizing results)
Texas Judge Race (pre-election/campaign information with links to campaign finance reports filed with Texas Ethics Commission)