Gov. Greg Abbott selects former appeals court judge Jane Bland for Texas Supreme Court

Bland lost her Houston appeals court seat in the November 2018 election.

Justice Jane Bland.
Justice Jane Bland.  Image via The University of Texas at Austin School of Law

Jane Bland, a former Republican appeals court judge in Houston who lost her seat in November amid a Democratic rout of urban-area appeals courts, is Gov. Greg Abbott’s pick for a vacancy on the Texas Supreme Court, he announced Monday.

Bland will assume the Place 6 seat of Justice Jeff Brown, a Republican who was confirmed late last month to the federal bench, after he formally resigns to begin his new post. Since the Legislature is not in session, she does not require confirmation by the Texas Senate, but will have to stand for election in 2020.

“Jane Bland is an experienced and proven legal expert whose respect for the Constitution is unmatched,” Abbott said. “As she assumes her new role on the Supreme Court, the people of Texas can rest assured that she will uphold the rule of law and be a good steward of the justice system. I am honored to appoint Jane to the highest court in Texas and am grateful for her service to our great state.”

Bland served as a judge for more than 20 years before becoming a partner at Vinson & Elkins, one of the state’s top law firms and a major contributor to Texas Supreme Court justices’ campaigns. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas School of Law, Bland became a trial court judge in Harris County in 1997, and was elevated to the appellate bench by an appointment from Gov. Rick Perry in 2003.

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She lost to Democrat Gordon Goodman in 2018 by less than one percentage point and applied for a seat on the high court 10 days later.

“What I’m looking forward to most is working with a great group of judges,” she said in an interview Monday. “What’s attractive about the appellate bench is the deliberative process. No appellate judge goes it alone.”

Bland is Abbott’s third appointee to the court where he launched his own political career. His most recent appointee, Justice Brett Busby, had also recently come off an election loss in a Houston appeals court. In the wake of a 2018 election that was punishing for Republican judges, Abbott has appointed to the bench many GOP judges who were rejected by voters.

Abbott had been under pressure from certain corners of the state’s legal community to appoint a woman or a person of color to a court that has become less diverse over the last decade. Bland’s appointment makes her the third woman on the court, which has eight white justices of nine. All three of Abbott’s appointees to the high court have been white. Historically, appointments have been a powerful tool for addressing disparities in the court’s makeup and elevating new voices in a field that remains largely white and male.

This will not be Bland’s first time sitting on the state’s highest civil court: In 2006, she was appointed to hear a single case after full-time justices on the court recused themselves. She heard oral arguments alongside the other high court justices and delivered the majority opinion in Hyundai Motor Co v. Vasquez, a case that established principles of jury selection in civil cases.

It was “like being called up to the show for one case only,” she recalled in an interview Monday. “I really did enjoy it.”

She was recommended for the current Texas Supreme Court post by Hugh Rice Kelly, a co-founder of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a tort reform group that is among the top contributors to Republicans in the state.

“No candidate could present qualifications superior to hers,” he wrote in a letter to the governor’s appointments office in December.

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Two candidates, Kathy Cheng and Larry Praeger, intend to run as Democrats for Place 6. Cheng ran unsuccessfully for the high court in 2018, earning 46 % of the vote against Brown. Praeger is a family law attorney in Dallas.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, Vinson & Elkins and Texans for Lawsuit Reform have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.