Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson of the Supreme Court of Texas announced this week that he will resign from the court effective October 1. Chief Justice Jefferson has served on the court since 2001, when he was appointed by Governor Rick Perry to fill a vacancy. Perry named Jefferson chief justice when former chief justice Tom Phillips retired in 2004, making Jefferson the first African-American to lead the court. Jefferson won statewide election twice and was scheduled to run for reelection in 2014. Governor Perry will now have the opportunity to name his successor.
Chief Justice Jefferson implemented a number of administrative innovations during his tenure as chief. He worked to open the court’s proceedings to the public, pushed for salary increases for judges, advocated for legal aid for indigents, and proposed juvenile justice reforms. According to his resignation announcement, one regret Jefferson has is that he was unable to accomplish judicial selection reform, and in particular an end to partisan judicial elections. According to Jefferson, “It is an irrational way of selecting judges. Just because you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ by your name does not mean you are more qualified to be a judge.” He went on to express doubt that reform is politically possible, but said “it is still worth the fight.”
Chief Justice Jefferson is a founding member of the O’Connor Advisory Committee to the Quality Judges Initiative at IAALS, having joined the committee soon after it was established in late 2009. He also delivered the keynote address at the presentation of IAALS’ 2010 Transparent Courthouse® Award. Like the recipients of the award that year—Nevada Senator William J. Raggio, Nevada Assembly Speaker Barbara E. Buckley, and former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer (who was honored posthumously)—Chief Justice Jefferson is a torchbearer for fair and impartial courts. He will be missed on the bench, but we are grateful for his ongoing commitment to those ideals—from whatever position he will now hold.