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Editorial

OUR VOICES: The Texas’ Judiciary’s January 6th Insurrection

By Frederick D. Haynes, III
Senior Pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas

Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III
Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III

January 6, 2021 changed the course of US history. The insurrection at the Capitol sparked a movement seeking to suppress our voices and our ballots. As President Biden recently stated, “equality and democracy are under assault.” Almost two years after the attack, a quiet, January 6th insurrection is taking place against the judiciary in Texas.

Americans are all too familiar with Texas’ far-reaching repressive laws to restrict how and when voters of color cast ballots. However, the campaign to undemocratically unseat judges hasn’t received any attention, even within the state. It’s not lost on my congregation and Texas’ Black communities that many of these elected judges are African American and from Democratic counties, where the majority of Texans live.

Like the January 6th insurrectionists, Texas Republicans are trying to unseat duly elected officials from our communities, quietly but in plain sight. Instead of violence, they are weaponizing instruments of the state like the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC), which are meant to protect the integrity of our institutions, and using other legal maneuvers designed to further their undemocratic goals.

Texas Republicans are actively engaged in a war to reject the will of the people, using smear “investigations” organized by powerful Republican attorneys and the Republican-majority members of the SCJC to oust Black elected judges. Of the thirteen SCJC members, two attorneys were appointed by the State Bar of Texas, six judges were appointed by the Texas Supreme Court—only one being a Democrat—and five citizen members were appointed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Enough said.

Texas is home to some of the most diverse cities in the US, yet some in the state view an increasingly diverse bench as a threat. For example, just ten years ago only one female Black judge was serving in Dallas County’s criminal district courts. Currently, nearly half the criminal district court’s benches—8 of the 17—are occupied by African American women.

We witnessed the brutal opposition campaign launched by far-right QAnon-inspired critics against Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing, which accused her of supporting child abuse. We are now seeing the same smear tactics directed at Black judges in Texas.

Take the example of Judge Amber Givens in Dallas. After reading Facebook commentary by various criminal defense lawyers calling Black people “animals” and “savages,” she successfully advocated to add an anti-discrimination policy to the Dallas District Court Plan which now disqualifies attorneys found using “inappropriate language and conduct that manifests a bias or prejudice” from receiving county court appointments to represent accused indigent individuals.

No good deed goes unpunished. The Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association’s (DCDLA) board, then led by a Republican, quickly retaliated and filed various grievances to the SCJC, subjectively accusing Givens of “mistreating” attorneys who come before her. These attorneys also have filled over 100 motions for recusal of cases in her court based on claims that Givens is “biased,” and accused her clerk of impersonating her. 

But don’t take my word for it. DCDLA’s disturbing goals for their smear campaign, evidenced in their own internal emails and a sworn deposition in a public discovery filing, states: “What I took from our [DCDLA] meeting was a short-term goal of getting her [Judge Amber Givens] charged (or at least investigated) with a crime, with the long-term goal being damaging her election prospects.” 

Judge Darrell Jordan of Harris County is but one more example. This judge was accused of unlawfully arresting and detaining the aggressive opposition researcher Wayne Dolcefino in June 2020 after he questioned Judge Jordan in his own court about criminal complaints. After Jordan warned Dolcefino to stop and leave, Dolcefino was held in contempt after refusing.

But it was Jordan who was later arrested, taken into custody, indicted for a misdemeanor charge of official oppression, and suspended without pay. The case was dismissed this past July but those aiming to put a Black judge in his place succeeded by generating negative media.

When it comes to Black judges in Texas, you will hear a lot of false accusations and tropes like they “run an inefficient courtroom [read incompetent],” they “speak disrespectfully to [read white] lawyers,” and they are “not working hard enough [read lazy].”

President Biden recently condemned Trump-led extremism, casting the midterm elections as a “battle for the soul of the nation.” However, what good is it to vote when insurrectionists employ other means to unseat our elected officials? Our communities need to understand what is happening and publicly call out these dark forces, because while national Democrats talk about battles, in Texas, the extremists are strategically fighting a protracted war.

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