As the Texas Tribune reported September 3, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the Texas Supreme Court is slated to resign his seat at the end of September. Yesterday, Governor Rick Perry appointed current Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht to the chief justice slot when Jefferson steps down.
Justice Hecht was first elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1988. According to the Supreme Court website:
“Before taking the bench, Justice Hecht was a partner in the Locke firm in Dallas, practicing mainly in the area of general business and commercial litigation. He earned a B.A. degree with honors in philosophy from Yale University and his J.D. degree cum laude from Southern Methodist University School of Law, where he was a Hatton W. Sumners Scholar, was elected to Order of the Coif, and served as an editor for the Southwestern Law Journal. He served as a law clerk to the Hon. Roger Robb, Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve Judge Advocate General Corps.”
To see the concerns raised about Justice Hecht's appointment, read below the jump. The Texas Democratic Party immediately released a statement with the following headline:
Perry Appoints Chief Justice Who Has Hijacked Judicial System to Benefit Corporate Giants and Insurance Companies
The statement characterized the appointment as “[c]ontinuing a pattern of cronyism” and characterized Justice Hecht as “ethically challenged.”
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa described Hecht's career as one of “defending insurance companies and corporate giants, at the expense of every day Texans” and recalled that Hecht “has admitted to using campaign funds for personal use.”
While the statement does not elaborate further on the issue concerning campaign funds, a 2008 post by The Wall Street Journal reported that:
“Now, there's news about Nathan Hecht, the Texas Supreme Court justice. Reports emerged yesterday that Hecht acknowledged using campaign funds to pay for dozens of flights to his hometown last year, calling the trips campaign-related – even though he's not up for re-election until 2012.”
In 2006, the gossip for all-things-legal blog Above the Law reported that Justice Hecht had been found not guilty of various charges under the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. This was a reversal of a decision by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct which had reprimanded Justice Hecht for “advanc[ing]the private interests of the judge or others” and “authoriz[ing]the public use of his or her name endorsing another candidate for any public office.” Those charges stemmed from his public endorsements of former White House Counsel Harriet Miers when then-President George W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2012, the Dallas Morning News endorsed Justice Hecht for another term on the Texas Supreme Court. In endorsing him, the Morning News cited his “intellectual clarity” and wrote: “We've been bothered in the past by ethics charges against Hecht, but those have been dismissed.”
Most recently, the Texas Supreme Court issued weekly orders on August 30. For that week, Justice Hecht delivered two dissenting opinions, which may be read here and here, and one concurring opinion which may be read here.