Justice, Supreme Court, Place 2: Steven Kirkland
Jimmy Blacklock – Republican Party: ★★★
Steven Kirkland – Democratic Party: ★★★1/2
ENDORSEMENTS: The Houston Chronicle editorial board recommends…
Republican incumbent Jimmy Blacklock has had a successful career, including stints in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the state attorney general’s office and as general counsel for Gov. Greg Abbott. No wonder the governor appointed him to this bench in January. Now Blacklock is facing his first election.
Despite his impressive professional record and legal qualifications, we worry whether he can pivot from partisan legal warfare to become a fair and impartial jurist. While working for Abbott, Blacklock, 38, represented the state and elected officials on many divisive issues, such as abortion and the Affordable Care Act.
When he met with us, the Yale Law School graduate gave all the right answers about his commitment to objectivity and the law. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing about his former boss.
At the annual Texas Rally for Life, Abbott seemed to suggest Blacklock has a partisan mindset. “I don’t have to guess or wonder how Justice Blacklock is going to decide cases because of his proven record of fighting for pro-life causes,” said Abbott. As a former Texas Supreme Court justice, the governor should have known better.
When asked about his boss’ ethical lapse, which was reported by the Texas Tribune, Blacklock said Abbott “has no idea how I am going to decide cases.”
A candidate shouldn’t be held accountable for a problematic remark by his former boss. However, we’re further disturbed that Blacklock even attended a pro-life rally after taking his seat on the court. Jurists must avoid even the appearance of partisanship and impropriety.
The same admonition would apply to his Democratic challenger, Steven Kirkland, 58, who told us he had not decided whether to attend pro-choice political events.
No Democrat has been elected to statewide office in Texas since 1994, but Kirkland, a University of Houston Law Center graduate, has bucked the odds before. He became the first openly gay Harris County civil district judge in 2008. After a political hitjob knocked him off the bench in 2012, Kirkland’s judicial career was resurrected in 2016 when he became a judge in the 334th Civil District Court of Harris County.
While experience as a trial judge isn’t the same as being an appellate-level jurist, we like the idea of justices who know the nuts and bolts of our courtrooms. Kirkland said his life experience differs from that of any judge currently on the Texas Supreme Court. He said he could be an antidote to “the group think” on this important court.
It is also worth noting that Kirkland was rated better than Blacklock in the State Bar 2018 Judicial Poll Summary. He gets our endorsement.