Texas Chief Justice among those set to step down early after Prop 13’s rejection
NOV 10, 2023 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: NOV 11, 2023
The Texas Supreme Court in 2015. The court is considering a change to the process for sealing records in court proceedings throughout the state. There is no timeline for when the justices might release a new draft of the current rule.
A majority of Texas voters approved all but one of the 14 proposed constitutional amendments: Proposition 13, which would have increased the mandatory retirement age for state justices and judges from 75 to 79.
Prop 13’s rejection could mean more than 100 state justices and judges will have to step down in the middle of their terms over the next 10 years — most notable among them, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who turns 75 next year.
Hecht is the longest-serving member of the high court in Texas history and the longest-tenured Texas judge in active service, according to the State of Texas Judicial Branch.
But with the rejection of Proposition 13, Hecht will need to leave his post before his term ends, a Supreme Court of Texas spokesperson confirmed in an email.
The timing of Proposition 13 lined up with a number of statewide judges approaching retirement age, said Doug Gladden, an appellate attorney at Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian.
“There comes a point when the public wants to see turnover on the bench, wants to see new opinions and new thoughts,” he said. “It seemed like this change was just meant to take a step back from that.”
Justices and judges set to age out of their positions are well-regarded in the legal community, Gladden said. However, the mandatory retirement age was adopted in 1965 and, with Proposition 13’s rejection, is still the law.
“They have come to this point in their lives knowing the mandatory retirement was coming and it just, it seemed like there was a push to change the rules late in the game for a select group of people,” Gladden said.
Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht will have to step down mid-term in 2024 after Proposition 13 — which would have raised the mandatory age of judges’ retirement to 79 — failed to pass.
Hecht likely won’t be the only one to leave mid-term.
There were 113 state judges ages 65 and older in Texas as of Sept. 1, according to data from the Office of Court Administration. The office did not break down the age groups further.
The mandatory retirement age of 75 for state justices and judges applies to the Texas Supreme Court, courts of appeals, district courts, and criminal district courts.
But the Texas Constitution allows some wiggle room.
Only a justice or judge who reaches 75 during the first four years of a six-year term will have to step down Dec. 31 of their fourth year, according to Article 5 of the Texas Constitution.
That would apply to Hecht, who will be in his fourth year when he turns 75 in 2024.
Judges who turn 75 in the fifth or sixth year can finish the term before leaving the bench.
Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges serve six-year terms while district court judges serve four-year terms.
Hecht’s departure means Gov. Greg Abbott will choose a replacement. When there’s a mid-term judicial vacancy, the governor may appoint someone, subject to Senate confirmation, to fill the remainder of the unexpired term.
A mandatory retirement age is not spelled out in the state Constitution for county or municipal judges. There are more than 150 municipal judges over the age of 75, according to Office of Court Administration data.
Although state justices and judges will continue to step down mid-term once they hit 75, that doesn’t mean they have to stop serving completely.
There are some circumstances that would allow a retired justice or judge to serve as a visiting judge.
When Judge Tami Craft took office in Harris County, we’re not sure she realized the focus on her private life would become so public as she battles election lawsuits, divorce and more. Nor did she know that the Turkey Leg Hut would aid in that notoriety. https://t.co/KqBFkXVxWv pic.twitter.com/eXxey9O3W4
— lawsinusa (@lawsinusa) November 9, 2023