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Republican Party of Texas leaders are attacking one of their own in their vehement opposition to a proposal that would change the way Texas judges are selected. The Republican Party hierarchy has singled out Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips, a member of the high court since 1988, for criticism in the debate over whether the state should replace partisan judicial elections with a system that would allow the governor, with state Senate approval, to appoint state district and appellate judges who eventually would face voters in nonpartisan retention elections. Party leaders’ ire with Phillips, the GOP official with the longest tenure in a statewide elected office, for suggesting an end to partisan elections of judges may be linked to the Republicans’ takeover at the state Capitol. “Now, as Republicans have gained the complete control of all facets of state government for the first time in modern history, the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court wants to take away that 153-year-old right by creating an appointment/retention system,” GOP officials complained in a position paper posted on the party’s Web site. “I think they think that if they convince a certain number of people this is just my idea, it will be easier to defeat,” Phillips says. “Clearly, it is his idea,” says Texas Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Weddington of San Antonio. “He has made himself very out front on this.” Weddington says. Phillips has traveled across the state in his quest for a change in the judicial selection system, meeting with newspapers’ editorial boards and addressing small groups of people on the issue. Fred Meyer of Dallas, a former state Republican chairman, says the party’s disagreement with Phillips isn’t personal. “I think he’s done a great job as chief justice of the court during his tenure,” Meyer says. “I disagree with him on whether judges should be appointed or elected.” Phillips hasn’t convinced all judges that a change is needed, although members of the judiciary aren’t inclined to criticize the chief justice. Judge Jay Patterson, a Republican who presides over Dallas’ 101st District Court, says he favors partisan elections because the Republican and Democratic parties are the best at recruiting people to run for judgeships. Without the parties’ participation, there would be less interest in judicial elections than there is now, he says. But some Republicans appear to have taken Phillips’ efforts to change the system personally. A March 14 article published on the party’s Web site suggests that Phillips may have gotten the idea for an appointive system in July 1998, when he went on a “10-day junket” to Europe with U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor. “I think they think if they tie me to Sandra Day O’Connor, that’s the pi�ce de r�sistance,” Phillips says. Phillips says he made the trip when he chaired the Conference of Chief Justices. While not mentioned in the GOP article, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer also made the trip, which took the jurists to European courts dealing with federalism issues for the first time, Phillips says. The article on the Web site acknowledges that Phillips advocated an end to judicial elections long before 1998, but it labels such a proposal a “crazy idea.” A Republican insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says GOP officials are upset with Phillips for claiming that the party has been “neutralized” on judicial selection. “Indeed, that never was the case,” Weddington says. “I don’t recall saying that,” Phillips says. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do [neutralize the party]. I don’t think we’ve succeeded.” State Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, says he worked with Phillips on judicial selection reforms since becoming a member of the Legislature in 1993. “Justice Phillips is suffering the price for providing leadership on this issue,” says Duncan, who sponsors the reform legislation the state Senate will consider. The measure, S.J.R. 33, is a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voter approval to be enacted. Previous efforts to change the system have failed, including legislation that passed the Senate in 2001 but never made it to the House for a vote. However, Phillips says he believes the conditions are right this year for the proposal to make it through the legislative process. He says such varied groups as the League of Women Voters, Texans for Public Justice and Texans for Lawsuit Reform support the legislation. “And 84 percent of the people say they want to vote on it,” Phillips says, citing a poll released recently by Making Texas Proud, a Republican group supporting the proposal. But a Republican who opposes the measure is confident that Texans will defeat the amendment even if the Legislature passes it and puts it on the ballot. Says Meyer, “It won’t pass.”

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