Buying Federal Judgeships in Texas is Commonplace if You Know Ted Cruz n’ John Cornyn Part 1

Judicial appointments have become a new metric for productivity in Congress. While it can be an ordeal to get substantive legislation through both chambers, Republicans control the Senate and can ram through controversial nominees who are unanimously opposed by Democrats. Federal judges, appointed for life, have immense power to influence the most important issues of the day — reproductive rights, environmental regulation, enforcement of criminal laws, immigration policy and workplace discrimination, to name just a few.

The two Texas senators also hail from a state with one of the highest numbers of federal judgeships.

Cruz and Cornyn also top the list of Judiciary Committee members, past and present, who have received campaign contributions from Trump and Obama nominees who became judges.

Cruz got about $88,000 from future Trump and Obama judges. Cornyn got at least $44,000. And Graham got at least $33,000. Their combined total: more than $160,000.

The other 19 Senate Judiciary members combined got about $65,000 from people who were confirmed while they were on the committee.

Cruz and Graham still outpace their Judiciary colleagues even when contributions to their failed presidential campaigns are excluded. Presidents, of course, have great influence on the process — they ultimately pick the nominees.

Cornyn backed all 12 of the nominees who had contributed to his campaigns and became judges. Cruz backed at least 19 of the 22, and Graham backed four of the five who donated to him.

NOWHERE BUT TEXAS

It may not be a coincidence that two senators from the same state made the top of the list. What makes Texas different?

One explanation is that both of Texas’ senators come from strong legal backgrounds, and both wound up on the Judiciary Committee. And they are on the committee at a time when the influence of Texas lawmakers looms large.

“I would say we’re in a unique period of history where the conservatism of the United States Senate lines up with the conservatism of Texas politics,” said Paul Brace, a professor of political science at Rice University.

Another explanation may be the way state judges end up on the bench.

Texas judges at almost every level — from county courts to the highest appellate courts — are elected in partisan contests. Making campaign contributions is part of the norm for many Texas lawyers, even to judges who’ll consider their cases.

That practice is unheard of in most states. Only about a dozen hold partisan elections to fill at least one level of their courts.

While it’s not uncommon for lawyers to be politically active, many states prohibit their judges from making campaign contributions, and that’s a no-go for federal judges as well because of ethical canons in the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. But Texas’ elected judges can.

And there is a common denominator for Cornyn, Cruz and a third of the Texas judicial nominees who’ve been confirmed since Trump became president — their service in the Texas Office of the Attorney General.

Cornyn was Texas attorney general from 1999 to 2002 and created the job of solicitor general, which is the state’s top appellate lawyer.

When Greg Abbott, Texas’ current governor, served as attorney general, he appointed Cruz as solicitor general.

The office has been something of an incubator for conservative ideology for many years.

Cruz defended conservative issues well beyond Texas’ boundaries when he was solicitor general — even urging the Supreme Court to strike down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban.

Alumni of the Texas attorney general’s office, including several Texas judicial nominees, embraced that practice.

MAKING THE PICKS

The president ultimately chooses judicial nominees, but the process typically starts at the state level — at least for district court judges. How home-state senators come up with recommendations varies.

 

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