Group blasts Texas Supreme Court for unsigned opinions

By Chris Rizo | May 8, 2008

Alex Winslow

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline)-A bevy of opinions issued last year by the Texas Supreme Court were written anonymously, so voters have no way of knowing where particular justices stand on many cases, a watchdog group says.

In a report issued Thursday, Texas Watch said the state's high court is largely operating outside the public eye, in secrecy.

The group said it found that 57 percent of the opinions issued in the court's 2006-07 term were anonymous and unsigned.

By comparison, just 5 percent of opinions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court for the same time period were unsigned, or per curiam.

"The Court's overuse of anonymous opinions reflects a penchant for secrecy," said Texas Watch Executive Director Alex Winslow.

"There is a cloud hanging over the Texas Supreme Court. There are ethics investigations, questions about the justices' work ethic, concerns about impartiality, and now revelations about a lack of transparency," he added.

The number of per curiam opinions issued by the Texas Supreme Court has more than doubled since the panel's 2002-03 term. Per curiam decisions are typically used for court opinions that are not controversial, brief and for relatively obvious legal answers.

"All too often, the Texas Supreme Court uses per curiam opinions as a shield to hide behind when they render decisions that are controversial, leaving them unaccountable to the voters," the report said.

In Texas, only six of the nine justices must support a per curiam opinion in order for the opinion to be released, so an opinion that is not necessarily unanimous is nonetheless issued as a per curiam opinion, even when in fact it may not be an opinion of the entire court.

"We do not advocate that all of the Court's decisions be signed; however, per curiam opinions should be limited to only those cases that do not have a broad impact or that do not set a significant legal precedent," the Texas Watch report said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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