Wallace Jefferson, with one child at SMU and two more on their way, has just announced he is quitting to reenter private practice on October 1st. As the father of a recent SMU graduate, I understand his decision.
Jefferson has ably served on the court for twelve years, nine as its chief justice. He was appointed after Alberto Gonzalez left to became President George W. Bush’s White House counsel. He is widely respected and will be hard to replace.
The chief justice has been a moderate in a court “packed with pro-business conservatives,” according to the Dallas Morning News.This strong anti-plaintiff tilt is why Texans who have been injured in accidents or damaged by large companies usually lose on appeal — 74% of the time according to a recent study by Texas Watch.
Jefferson has criticized the Texas legal system repeatedly. He has spoken out about how expensive and secretive litigation is and how the current system of electing judges based on their political party is wrong. Most recently he championed the use of fill-in-the-blank divorce forms so people would not have to hire attorneys, allowed cameras in the Supreme Court during arguments, mandated electronic filings, and called for a review of all criminals sentenced since Texas leads the country in overturned convictions.
The News wrote that “legal insiders say Jefferson’s resignation is a significant blow to those who advocate for improvements in the administration of justice.”
Jefferson, the descendant of a slave, is the first African-American to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Dale Wainwright, the only other African American in the court’s history, quit last year.
The game of musical chairs continues, with four of the current members only being appointed or elected in the last four years.
Governor Perry will announce Jefferson’s replacement later this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if he picks justice Eva Guzman, allowing him to appoint a new justice to replace Guzman. Perry’s most recent pick was his chief of staff, Jeffrey Boyd.
There are seven men and two women on the court, all staunchly Republican.