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Democrats Make Large Gains in Texas Urban Judicial Races

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In Texas, where all state judges are chosen in partisan elections, the Democratic Party’s increased support among urban and suburban voters in last Tuesday’s election led to scores of Democrats winning judicial positions previously held by Republicans. In fact, the Democrats’ gains in judicial races dwarfed their net gains of two seats in the Texas congressional delegation, two state senators, and 12 state representatives.

Republican candidates won all races for the Supreme Court of Texas, the state’s highest civil court, and the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court. Both courts, whose members are elected statewide, have been composed solely of Republicans for almost two decades.

It was a different story in the 14 courts of appeals, which are elected from districts around the state. Of the 80 intermediate appellate judgeships in the state, 45 were on the ballot Tuesday, 32 of which were contested. Republicans won only one of those elections, in the appellate court located in Fort Worth, while Democrats won 31. Democratic candidates held onto 10 total seats in the El Paso, Corpus Christi-Edinburg, Houston, and San Antonio courts of appeals, and picked up 23 seats previously held by Republicans--9 in Houston, 8 in Dallas, 4 in Austin, and 2 in San Antonio. Thus, the Republicans’ 66 to 14 edge among intermediate appellate justices statewide was shaved to 43 to 37.

In recent cycles, Democratic candidates for the courts of appeals had frequently won in the largest urban center of a district—Harris County for the 10-county First and Fourteenth Courts in Houston (composed of two courts), Dallas County for the six-county Fifth Court in Dallas, Bexar County for the 32-county Fourth Court in San Antonio, and Travis County for the 24-county Third District in Austin. But this year, the suburban vote, if favorable to Republicans at all, was simply too close to overcome the urban margins rolled up by the Democratic nominees.

Democratic candidates have been making steady gains in urban district court races for years. Democrats already controlled every judgeship among Dallas County’s 39 district courts and Travis County’s 19 district courts, but they created a major shift in Harris County, winning all 37 district court seats that were up for election, each previously held by a Republican. Together with their 2016 sweep of all judicial races, judges elected on the Democratic ticket now control all 60 district benches in the state’s largest county. Only in Tarrant County (Fort Worth), where all 26 district judges were elected on the Republican ticket, and Bexar County, where Republicans still hold 5 of 27 district judgeships after a Democratic sweep on Tuesday, are there any Republican judges in the state’s largest five counties.

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