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Timing of Supreme Court justice’s retirement allows Gov. Greg. Abbott, not voters, to pick his two-year replacement

Aug. 21 is the deadline for vacancies that trigger a November election to fill open seats. If Green’s replacement is not on this year’s ballot, the next general election will be in November 2022. Abbott will appoint someone to fill the rest of the term.

Justice Paul Green hears arguments in the Texas Supreme Court in 2019.

Paul Green, a Republican Texas Supreme Court justice of 15 years, said this week that he is retiring from the high court Aug. 31. But if he left office just 10 days sooner, his vacancy would be filled by voters in the November general election.

Instead, his timing means that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott can hand-pick Green’s replacement, who will hold the seat for up to two years, depending on the timing of the appointment, until the state’s next general election.

Aug. 21 is the deadline for vacancies that trigger a November election to fill open seats, said Stephen Chang, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state’s office. If Green’s replacement is not on this year’s ballot, the next general election will be in November 2022.

Green said that he gave no consideration to how his successor would be selected when he chose which day he planned to leave the bench. But he also said he would not change his retirement date to allow for an election.

“It’s the end of the court term, simple as that. There was no consideration given to anything other than that,” he said in an interview. “It’s a time when court finishes its docket. We start a new term Sept. 1. I thought it’d make for a really good time for any new judge coming in to start with the other judges in the new term.”

The Texas Democratic Party accused Green of playing politics and called for him to resign early to trigger an election.

“Justice Green must tender his resignation immediately,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, Texas Democratic Party chairman, in a statement. “Green purposely timed his resignation to disenfranchise Texans and not let them choose their next Texas Supreme Court Justice. That is dead wrong.”

Hinojosa said Green “must not allow Greg Abbott to supersede the democratic will of the people.”

“The people should choose their justices, not Greg Abbott,” he said.

Abbott did not respond to requests for comment.

Green dismissed the Democratic Party’s accusations.

“I’m not going to bother with that. It’s all politics with these guys, and I just don’t play those games,” Green said. “I didn’t think they’d do something like that, but I guess nothing’s surprising anymore.”

All of the court’s nine members are Republican and serve staggered six-year terms. In November, four incumbents face reelection. If Green’s seat were placed on the ballot, more than half of the seats would be up for vote. Two justices were appointed in 2019 and will be facing election this year. Four others were initially appointed before being elected in their own right.

Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a financial supporter 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.

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