Wallace Jefferson, the first African-American to be chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court and one of the most respected jurists in the nation, is resigning his position effective Oct. 1.
In an interview Monday, Jefferson said that he informed Gov. Rick Perry of his decision last week and that an official announcement will be issued Tuesday.
The governor is expected to appoint a new chief justice quickly. That appointee will have to run for election next fall.
Jefferson has served on the state’s highest court for a dozen years, nine of them as chief justice. He said financial pressures led to his decision, but he said he also had achieved most of the goals he had set out to accomplish.
“I love being chief justice because it is a great job,” Jefferson said in a telephone interview Monday. “I’m going to move on to some new challenges, though I’m not sure what yet.”
Legal experts say that Jefferson’s departure will have minimal impact on how cases are decided by the state’s highest court because he is viewed as a moderate on a bench packed with pro-business conservatives.
Jefferson said his biggest disappointment as chief justice was his inability to push through judicial selection reform, especially the elimination of electing judges through the partisan process.
“It is an irrational way of selecting judges,” he said. “Just because you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ by your name does not mean you are more qualified to be a judge.”
While Jefferson expressed doubt that judicial election reform is politically possible, he said, “Whether it will happen or not, it is still worth the fight.”
You know how I feel about that. Jefferson’s term expires next year, so his resignation does not create an extra slot on the ballot. It does mean that his appointed replacement gets to run as the incumbent. Jefferson did some good things on the court with respect to legal aid and improving transparency, and I wish him well in the private sector. The Supreme Court is in dire need of some new and broader perspectives, but as the story notes Jefferson’s resignation won’t change much. As with everything else in this state, that will ultimately have to come from the ballot box. The Trib has more.