Remarks Of Nathan L. Hecht, Chief Justice Of The Supreme Court of Texas

Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 11:19

Chief Justice Phillips, thank you so much for your generous words. They mean all the more coming from a friend and colleague for more than 30 years. Your leadership and Chief Justice Jefferson’s have established the Court’s excellent reputation in the State and throughout the Nation. If leaders have done a poor job, people’s expectations are low, and the next guy doesn’t have to do much to look good. That is not my situation. Following Chief Justice Jefferson and Chief Justice Phillips, I will have to work very hard to measure up to the high standards they have set.

Governor Perry, thank you for my appointment. I will do all I can to be worthy of the confidence you’ve shown in me. Justice Scalia, thank you for taking time to journey to Austin during what I know is a very busy period for you. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments three days last week and will hear arguments tomorrow and Wednesday. Your being here, as Texas’s Circuit Justice, as a friend of this Court for many years, as an influential author, and — what can I say — as a “judicial rock star,” is very important to us.

I am grateful to my family for joining me here today: my brother, the Reverend Homer Hecht, who offered the invocation, and his wife, Char, of Liberty, Kentucky; my brother, Karl, and his wife, Candi, of Dallas; their sons Jonathan, of Austin, and Joshua, and his wife, Kristen, of Washington, DC; and my sister, Helen, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. At my first investiture 25 years ago, I said my siblings and I actually like each other, and it is still true. Thanks for coming.

I have many dear friends here, friends since high school, law school, and practice. Even to begin to call all their names would tread too heavily upon your patience. I will say that many friends from the Cornerstone Christian Church in Dallas are here, some with whom I have worshiped for decades, some who worked in my first election campaign in 1988. I am grateful to them for coming.

As Tom said, I have spent more than half my life as a judge, nearly a third of a century. (My brother was reminding me yesterday about how we played court as kids. I was always the judge, of course, and he, the hapless defendant, was always found to be guilty. I am not counting those early years as part of my career!).

I have never forgotten that it is an awesome responsibility to judge among your fellow citizens, that each case is of immense personal importance to the parties involved, that many cases are important not just to the parties but to the development of the law itself, and that therefore it is critical to do right in every case.

I am honored to serve a great court in the Supreme Court of Texas. The minister said yesterday in church, “you can’t lead those you don’t love.” I love the Court and I love and respect my colleagues. We often disagree, and then I must love them even though they’re wrong. But the Court that sits before you today is proof that judges - government officials - can disagree vehemently about important issues of law and still work together for the people who look to them for justice.

This is a Court committed, heart and soul, to the principle that all must have access to justice, including the poor, the most vulnerable among us, if the promises of the rule of law are to remain real and true. This is not a matter of politics, liberal or conservative; it is about good government.

On Veterans Day, it should be noted that the Court has worked with the State Bar of Texas to ensure that veterans returning home have legal help in obtaining benefits, keeping their homes, facing family issues, and encountering the criminal justice system. The Court has worked hard to support legal aid, and we will continue to do so. I am pleased that many friends from the Access to Justice community are here today.

We are always trying to improve court efficiency. We are implementing electronic filing throughout Texas to reduce costs and improve public access. We have created rules for expedited trials to make civil cases less expensive and preserve the jury system as a centerpiece of the civil justice system. The Governor and the Legislature have been full partners in all these efforts, and we will continue to join with them in reaching these goals. We will work with the Bar so that the legal system is responsive to the public’s needs and operated for its good. The minister yesterday in church also warned against getting too big for your britches. I could tell he was preaching to people down the pew from me. To come to this position, contemplating the history of this great Court and its leaders, facing the challenges of the day, and building for a strong future -- is deeply humbling for me. I do not regard the position to which Governor Perry has appointed me as a career capstone, certainly not a headstone, but as a cornerstone for the work that lies ahead. What I lack, I have prayed God, Who has led me to this place, to provide. I have faith that He will. God bless you, and God bless Texas.