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Texas is one of only eight states that hold partisan elections for their supreme courts. But seven out of the nine members on the Texas Supreme Court were first appointed by a state governor — meaning just two current members started on the court after being elected.
An appointed judge has to run again once the term of the position they assumed is over, but they almost always win.
“They run as the incumbent Republican member. And guess what, it’s worked like magic in this basically Republican state,” said Ron Beal, a professor emeritus at Baylor Law School.
Voting FAQ: 2022 midterms
How do I know if I'm registered to vote?
The deadline to register to vote in the 2022 primary election was Oct. 11. Check if you’re registered to vote here.
When can I vote?
Election day is Nov. 8. Early voting ended Nov. 4.
How do I know if I qualify to vote by mail?
This option is fairly limited in Texas. You’re allowed to vote by mail only if: You will be 65 or older by Election Day, you will not be in your county for the entire span of voting, including early voting, you cite a sickness or disability that prevents you from voting in person without needing personal assistance or without the likelihood of injuring your health, you’re expected to give birth within three weeks before or after Election Day or you are confined in jail but otherwise eligible (i.e., not convicted of a felony).
Are polling locations the same on election day as they are during early voting?
Not always. You’ll want to check for open polling locations with your local elections office before you head out to vote. Additionally, you can confirm with your county elections office whether election day voting is restricted to locations in your designated precinct or if you can cast a ballot at any polling place.
How can I find which polling places are near me?
County election offices are supposed to post on their websites information on polling locations for Election Day and during the early-voting period by Oct. 18. The secretary of state’s website will also have information on polling locations closer to the start of voting. However, polling locations may change, so be sure to check your county’s election website before going to vote.
What form of ID do I need to bring to vote?
You’ll need one of seven types of valid photo ID to vote in Texas: A state driver’s license, a Texas election identification certificate, a Texas personal identification card, a Texas license to carry a handgun, a U.S. military ID card with a personal photo, a U.S. citizenship certificate with a personal photo or a U.S. passport. Voters can still cast votes without those IDs if they sign a form swearing that they have a “reasonable impediment” from obtaining a proper photo ID or use a provisional ballot. Find more details here.
What can I do if I have trouble voting?
You can contact your county elections official or call the Texas Secretary of State's helpline at 1-800-252-VOTE (8683). A coalition of voting rights groups is also helping voters navigate election concerns through the 866-OUR-VOTE (687-8683) voter-protection helpline. The coalition also has hotlines available in other languages and for Texans with disabilities.
The Texas general election is only weeks away, on Nov. 8. Texas voters will have the opportunity to choose whether to reelect or replace three justices who were initially appointed to their seats.
Most voters don’t know a lot about the judges up for election, so they tend to vote along party lines, Beal said. The Texas Supreme Court has not had a Democratic judge since the 1990s.
The Texas Supreme Court is the court of last resort for all civil cases. Any noncriminal case tried in the state can be appealed until it reaches the Texas Supreme Court; a decision made there is final.
Texas is one of just two states that have two types of courts of last resort. While the Texas Supreme Court deals with civil cases, the Court of Criminal Appeals is the final place for criminal cases.
“The docket, meaning the number of cases, would be so huge that nothing would get out in a timely fashion from the Supreme Court, and that is why they created the Court of Criminal Appeals,” Beal said.
The Texas Supreme Court has the power to make sweeping decisions that interpret the state’s constitution, impacting the lives of Texans across the state. This played out prominently during the pandemic when the court lifted the ban on evictions and debt collections, extended rent relief programs and routinely overturned local mask mandates.
The court has been an integral mechanism in keeping laws in place that restrict abortion access in Texas. Most recently, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state could enforce a 1925 abortion ban following the reversal of Roe v. Wade. The ruling makes abortion providers liable to lawsuits and financial penalties if they continue to perform the procedure. The court also ended the battle to block Senate Bill 8, which effectively bans abortions in Texas after about six weeks into a pregnancy, when it ended a series of legal challenges prompted by abortion providers.
What you can expect from our elections coverage
How we explain voting
We explain the voting process with election-specific voter guides to help Texans learn what is on the ballot and how to vote. We interview voters, election administrators and election law experts so that we can explain the process, barriers to participation and what happens after the vote is over and the counting begins. Read more here.
How readers inform our work
Instead of letting only politicians set the agenda, we talk to voters and scrutinize polling data to understand ordinary Texans’ top concerns. Our readers’ questions and needs help inform our priorities. We want to hear from readers: What do you better want to understand about the election process in Texas? If local, state or congressional elected officials were to successfully address one issue right now, what would you want it to be? What’s at stake for you this election cycle? If we’re missing something, this is your chance to tell us.
How we hold officials accountable
We do not merely recount what politicians say, but focus on what they do (or fail to do) for the Texans they represent. We aim to provide historical, legal and other kinds of context so readers can understand and engage with an issue. Reporting on efforts that make voting and engaging in our democracy harder is a pillar of our accountability work. Read more here.
How we choose what races to cover
We aren’t able to closely cover all 150 races in the Texas House, 31 in the Texas Senate or 38 for the Texas delegation in the next U.S. House. We need to choose what races we cover closely by using our best judgment of what’s most noteworthy. We take into account factors like power, equity, interest and competitiveness in order to determine what warrants more resources and attention. Read more here.
How we cover misinformation
In reporting on falsehoods and exaggerations, we clearly explain why it is untrue and how it may harm Texans. Sometimes, we choose to not write about misinformation because that can help amplify it. We’re more likely to debunk falsehoods when they are spread by elected officials or used as a justification for policy decisions. Read more here.
Americans don’t choose all their judges in elections. Justices for the U.S. Supreme Court, for example, are appointed by presidents, not elected by voters. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently faced criticism that its rulings are not representative of the wants of the American people.
“This is an opportunity that we have for direct participation in democracy that we do not have at the federal level,” said John Murphy, a law professor at Texas A&M University. “People who are interested in the shape of the law and the future of the law and the interpretation of the law should, by all means, vote in the general elections for judges at any level, but especially in the Supreme Court of Texas.”
Who’s on the ballot this year?
There are three seats up for election this year. Judicial campaigns are different from other types of campaigns. Candidates tend to campaign on their experience and endorsements, and they avoid outlining how they will rule in cases because the state’s judicial code of conduct forbids candidates from making those kinds of pledges.
The best way to gauge what a judge will do is to look at the values of who appointed and endorsed them, said Beal, the former Baylor law professor.
Debra Lehrmann is the Republican incumbent up for election in Place 3. She was appointed to the position by former Gov. Rick Perry in 2010 and has since been reelected twice. She is endorsed by Abbott, Texas Alliance for Life and the Texas Civil Justice League political action committee.
Erin Nowell is the Democrat challenging Lehrmann. She serves on the 5th District Court of Appeals. She is endorsed by the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus, the Texas AFL-CIO and the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
Rebeca Huddle is the Republican incumbent and was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2020. This is her first time running for reelection. She is endorsed by Abbott, Texas Alliance for Life and the Texas Civil Justice League PAC.
Amanda Reichek is the Democrat running against Huddle. She serves on the 5th District Court of Appeals. She is endorsed by the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus, the Texas AFL-CIO and the Texas AFT.
Evan Young is the most recent appointee to the Texas Supreme Court after Abbott put him up for the position in November 2021. This is his first time running for reelection. He previously clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court. He is endorsed by Abbott, Texas Alliance for Life and the Texas Civil Justice League PAC.
The Democrat challenging Young is Julia Maldonado. She is the Harris County presiding family court judge. She is endorsed by the Texas AFL-CIO and Texas AFT.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University, Texas AFT and the Texas Civil Justice League 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.