Friday, July 27, 2007

Money--The Real Chief Justice of the Texas Judicial System

An editorial in the Austin American-Statesman, titled Plopping $447,000 onto the scales of Texas justice, provides an unsettling account of how very influential money is in Texas government, even in the judiciary. The article explains how Justice Nathan Hecht, when in legal trouble with the Texas Ethics Commission, solicited money from major law firms to help pay for his legal defense. The main problem proposed by this editorial is that the lawyers that donated money to Hecht practice before his court. The obvious question, then, is "How will this affect Hecht's objectivity when the donors bring their cases before him and the Supreme Court?"
The author of this article does a good job of staying clear and objective. He or she does not make broad assumptions about the relationship between fiscal donations and judicial decisions. They even present a slightly counter argument in saying that "Almost all judges and judicial candidates despise the need to ask for money to run for their offices", but still questions the influence that money has on decision making. Although the author's objectivity in presenting this question to the public (so that we can make our own decision) is admirable, there are stark facts that could have been included in this article. For example, the UT Texas Politics website explains that the Texans for Public Justice reported that between 1994 to 1998, the Texas Supreme Court justices "were seven and one-half times as likely to accept petitions filed by contributors of at least $100,000 than by non-contributors. Further, they were ten times as likely to accpet petitions filed by contributors of $250,000 then by non-contributors."
The facts are there, and I personally find it a bit disturbing how influential monetary issues can be in the Texas Judicial System.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Groups Decide It's Time to Replace Texas' Top Environmental Official With Someone That Is Actually Concerned With the Environment

This article explains the disapproval that several environmental groups have expressed for the chairmen of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Kathleen Hartnett White, and their attempts to get her out of office. These groups claim that her efforts towards issues such as clean air and global warming have been less that sufficient. I found this article to be interesting and important for a number of reasons. First, it is a great example of how watchdog groups can call attention to government officials that are not properly performing their job. Furthermore, it shows how efforts can be made, such as the "Get White Out" campaign, to put pressure on top government officials (Governor Rick Perry in this case) to act in accordance with desires of the public. Finally, Governor Perry has not yet decided on who will replace White, and I believe it is important that our state's top environmental official be someone with stronger environmental concern.

For the complete article: Environmental Chief Targeted