The Supreme Court of Texas (SCOTX) is the court of last resort for civil matters (including juvenile delinquency cases, which are categorized as civil under the Texas Family Code) in the U.S. state of Texas. A different court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA), is the court of last resort in criminal matters.
The Court has its seat at the Supreme Court Building on the State Capitol grounds in Austin, Texas.
The Texas Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice and eight associate justices. All nine positions are elected, with a term of office of six years with no term limit.
By statute, the Texas Supreme Court has administrative control over the State Bar of Texas, an agency of the judiciary. The Texas Supreme Court has the sole authority to license attorneys in Texas. It also appoints the members of the Board of Law Examiners which, under instructions of the Supreme Court, administers the Texas bar exam. The Court has the last word in attorney disciplinary proceedings brought by the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, a committee of the State Bar of Texas, but rarely exercises discretionary review in such cases. The Supreme Court accepts fewer than 100 cases per year to be decided on the merits. In addition to its adjudicatory and administrative functions, the Supreme Court promulgates, and occasionally revises, court rules of procedure, which include the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure (TRCP), the Texas Rules of Evidence (TRE), and the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure (TRAP).
The Texas Supreme Court is the only state supreme court in the United States in which the manner in which it denies discretionary review can actually imply approval or disapproval of the merits of the lower court’s decision and in turn may affect the geographic extent of the precedential effect of that decision. In March 1927, the Texas Legislature enacted a law directing the Texas Supreme Court to summarily refuse to hear applications for writs of error when it believed the Court of Appeals opinion correctly stated the law. Thus, since June 1927, over 4,100 decisions of the Texas Courts of Appeals have become valid binding precedent of the Texas Supreme Court itself because the high court refused applications for writ of error rather than denying them and thereby signaled that it approved of their holdings as the law of the state.
While Texas’s unique practice saved the state supreme court from having to hear relatively minor cases just to create uniform statewide precedents on those issues, it also makes for lengthy citations to the opinions of the Courts of Appeals, since the subsequent writ history of the case must always be noted (e.g., no writ, writ refused, writ denied, etc.) in order for the reader to determine at a glance whether the cited opinion is binding precedent only in the district of the Court of Appeals in which it was decided, or binding precedent for the entire state. Citations to cases from the Houston-based Courts of Appeals are also longer than others because they require identification of the appellate district number — [1st Dist.] or [14th Dist.] — in addition to the name of the city.
The Texas Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice and eight associate justices. All positions are elective. While the chief has special administrative responsibilities, each member has one vote and may issue a dissenting or concurring opinion. Granted cases are assigned to justices’ chambers for opinion authorship by draw. Grants requires four votes. Judgments are rendered by majority vote. Per curiam opinions may be issued if at least 6 justices agree. Petitions for review are automatically denied after 30 days unless at least one justice pulls them off the metaphorical conveyor belt.
To serve on the court, a candidate must be at least 35 years of age, a citizen of Texas, licensed to practice law in Texas, and must have practiced law (or have been a lawyer and a judge of a court of record together) for at least ten years. The Clerk of the Court, currently Blake A. Hawthorne, is appointed by the Justices and serves a four-year term, which is renewable.
All members of the Texas Supreme Court typically belong to the same party because all are elected in statewide races, rather than by the electorates of smaller appellate districts, as the justices on the intermediate appellate courts are. Although there are fourteen such courts, the state is geographically divided into thirteen. Two appellate districts (the 1st and the 14th) are coextensive. Recent proposals to reorganize the Texas appellate courts by consolidating districts, and to create a specialty court of appeals for government-entity cases, failed in the Texas legislature’s 2021 regular session.