Republicans continued to win all statewide elections in Texas. Texas still has two Republican senators and only Republicans hold statewide offices. The two highest Texas courts, the Supreme Court of Texas, which hears only civil cases, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals continue to have only Republican judges. However, the 2018 election will have a dramatic impact on the mid-level appellate courts in Texas.
Mid-Level Appellate Courts
Texas has 14 mid-level appellate courts. These courts consider both civil and criminal appeals. Some of these courts are in relatively rural areas and have as few as three judges. The large metropolitan areas have many mid-level appellate judges. Houston has 18 judges in two separate courts. The Dallas Court of Appeals has 13 judges. The Courts of Appeals in Fort Worth and San Antonio each have seven judges, and the Austin court has six judges. Each court serves the county where its host city is located and several nearby suburban/rural counties.
Judges Elected by Party Affiliation
Texas uses partisan elections to select judges. Like other elected officials, Texas judges get on a ballot by winning the Republican or Democratic primary. In the general election, party affiliation appears on the ballot. Most voters know nothing about a judicial candidate other than party affiliation. Texas allows straight ticket voting, which means a voter can simply choose all candidates of a particular party.
Many Democratic Victories
Prior to the 2018 election, all judges in the mid-level appellate courts in Houston, Dallas and Austin were Republicans. As a result of the 2018 election, Democratic judges will have a majority on the mid-level appellate courts sitting in Houston (both courts), Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso, and Corpus Christi. Republicans will retain majorities on the mid-level appellate courts sitting in Fort Worth, Texarkana, Amarillo, Beaumont, Waco, Eastland, and Tyler.
It seems clear straight ticket voting going to Democrats in 2018, especially in the suburban counties near the large cities, provided the votes to change the mid-level appellate courts.
Mid-Level Appellate Courts Decide Thousands of Cases Each Year
Generally, mid-level appellate courts decide cases with three-judge panels. Rarely do all judges on a mid-level appellate court consider a case. In contrast, the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals require all sitting judges to hear each case. The result is that the Supreme Court of Texas decides about 100 civil cases per year; the mid-level appellate courts decide thousands per year.
The large appellate courts in urban areas generally decide 500 or more civil cases each year. The Supreme Court of Texas can only review a small number of the civil decisions of the mid-level appellate courts. For most civil cases, the mid-level appellate courts are the final appeal. Starting in January 2019, many of those appellate decisions will be by newly elected Democratic judges.