Houston State District Court Judge Steven Kirkland has announced his candidacy for a seat on the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, making him the first openly gay candidate to run for the state’s highest civil court.
Kirkland, a Democrat, is seeking Place 2 on the court, which is currently held by Justice Don Willett. Willett was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by President Donald Trump in September, setting the stage for an open primary if Willett wins Senate confirmation.
“I’m running because the Texas Supreme Court has entered far too many decisions recently that reek of politics and it’s time to change that,’’ Kirkland said.
Kirkland points to the court’s recent unanimous decision on June 30 in Pidgeon v. Turner, which ruled that the City of Houston should not have extended its benefits policy to same-sex couples as a primary example of a political decision.
Kirkland notes that since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide that “marriage means marriage.”
“They were thumbing their noses at the law and thumbing their noses at the U.S. Supreme Court, all to protect themselves in the Republican primary,’’ Kirkland said of the ruling. Kirkland faces long odds in a deeply red state, which has not elected a Democrat to the Texas Supreme Court since Justice Rose Spector lost her seat in 1998. In the 2016 general election, Republican incumbents beat all of their Democratic challengers by at least 13 percent margin. “The margins are pretty broad and I’ll be the first to admit, it’s an uphill battle,” Kirkland said.
“But it was an also an uphill battle when I first won in 2008.’’
Kirkland was part of a wave of Democrats who took seats from Harris County Republican incumbents when President Barack Obama won his first term in office in 2008. He will be joined in the Democratic Primary by R.K. “Ravi” Sandill, another Harris County district judge who announced in August that he’s running for Texas Supreme Court. Sandhill is the first South Asian candidate to run for the high court and is challenging Justice John Devine for his seat.