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The Texas Senate passed a bill Wednesday to create a new statewide court of appeals that would hear cases that have statewide significance — including ones that challenge state laws, the constitution or when the state or its agencies are sued.
Currently, when such cases go to the intermediate appellate level, they are mostly heard by the 3rd Court of Appeals based in Austin. That court’s judges are elected by voters in Democratic-leaning Travis County. Senate Bill 1529, though, would send the cases to the new appellate court whose judges would be elected by voters statewide — an electorate that skews Republican.
Some of the state’s highest profile cases could be affected by this proposed court. Bill author Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said that recent lawsuits surrounding Gov. Greg Abbott’s pandemic emergency orders are examples of types of litigation the proposed court would have jurisdiction over.
Critics say the proposed new court is a Republican attempt to yank jurisdiction of these cases from Democrats.
The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals has five Democrats and only one Republican. Currently, all statewide elected judges are Republican, including on the Texas Supreme Court — and it’s likely the proposed court would also be all Republican.
“Since the [3rd Court of Appeals] deals with issues facing state government, it's a thorn in the Republican Party side,” Mark P. Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University, said in an interview. “And so by transitioning that by moving that to a statewide election where Republicans have the advantage, they would be able to, most likely, flip from being a Democratic majority… to a [5-0] Republican advantage.”