During the 2016 general election campaign, Democratic candidates for Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals seats said they hoped that having Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ballot would help their prospects in the solidly red state.
But rather than being dragged down by the Republican presidential candidate, the six GOP candidates for the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals joined Trump as Election Day winners in the Lone Star State.
Statewide court races in Texas are rarely high-profile contests, particularly in a presidential election year. Such elections typically come down to party ID — and that held true Tuesday evening.
With early returns coming in, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Larry Meyers, the only Democrat in a statewide office, lost his Place 2 race to challenger Mary Lou Keel. Meyers, who was first elected to the court in 1992, had switched parties in 2013, criticizing the Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party. Keel is a Harris County state district judge.
In the other contests for seats on the state's highest criminal court, Republican Fort Worth attorney Scott Walker defeated San Antonio attorney and Democrat Betsy Johnson in the open Place 5 race. Incumbent Republican Judge Michael Keasler, who has been a judge on the court since 1999, beat Dallas County District Judge Robert Burns, the Democratic challenger, in Place 6.
In those races, the candidates talked largely about criminal justice reform and capital punishment. Those races also were characterized in part by Meyers' party change and Walker's name. Almost all of the candidates agreed that criminal cases involving drug addiction and mental illness need to be settled outside the courtroom. However, their views on capital punishment reflected the challenge Texans face in any effort to realize reforms to the state's death penalty.
In the Supreme Court races, Democratic challengers said they wanted to bring diversity to the bench. Voters chose to stick with their Republican incumbents.
Republican Justice Debra Lehrmann defeated Democratic challenger Mike Westergren in the Place 3 race. Lehrmann has been on the bench since 2010, and Westergren is a Corpus Christi lawyer, former state district judge and justice of the peace in Nueces County.
In the Place 5 race, Republican Justice Paul Green defeated Democrat Dori Contreras Garza. Green was first elected to the court in 2004, and Garza is a justice on the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi.
In the Place 9 contest, Republican Justice Eva Guzman was victorious over Democrat Savannah Robinson. The Supreme Court is the state's highest civil court. In Place 9, Guzman has been on the court since 2009, and Robinson is a Danbury lawyer.