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Abbott appoints judges to new Texas appellate court

Gov. Greg Abbott announced the appointments of three inaugural justices for the Fifteenth Court of Appeals, a new appellate court with sole intermediate jurisdiction over disputes involving the state.

Scott Brister, Scott Field, and April Farris were appointed justices on the new appellate court for terms that begin on September 1 and run through the end of 2026. Brister will serve as the court’s chief justice.

“Last year, I worked with the Texas Legislature to pass a law creating a centralized court of appeals to resolve public law disputes and constitutional challenges that impact Texans across our great state, as well as appeals from the first-ever Texas business courts,” Abbott said in a release.

“Today, those plans come to fruition, and I am proud to appoint the first three members of the Fifteenth Court of Appeals. These highly experienced individuals will serve a vital role in our state’s effort to ensure that the Texas Constitution and state statutes are applied uniformly throughout Texas and that businesses have a sophisticated and efficient process to resolve their disputes. I look forward to working with them as we continue to create a bigger, better Texas for all.”

Brister previously served on the Texas Supreme Court and on two other appellate courts. Field is currently a district judge in Williamson County, and Farris currently sits on the First Court of Appeals.

Senate Bill (SB) 1045 by state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and sponsored by state Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) passed last year. It had two main purposes: to lighten the litigation load for the current set of appeals courts, and to provide a new venue for suits brought by and against the state.

The current venue for nearly all of those disputes is the Third Court of Appeals, which has frequently been in conflict with decisions made by the Texas Supreme Court. Rather than assume office via election in a geographically limited district like the Third Court of Appeals — each place on which is held by Democrats — the occupants of the new court will first be appointed, then elected statewide.

According to the law, the court will grow from three to five justices after September 1, 2027. The Texas Supreme Court is prohibited from transferring cases away from the Fifteenth Court of Appeals.

“Under the current judicial system, appeals in cases of statewide significance are decided by one of Texas's 14 intermediate appellate courts. These courts have varying levels of experience with the complex legal issues involved in cases of statewide significance, resulting in inconsistent results for litigants,” reads the bill’s statement of intent.

“SB 1045 addresses these problems by establishing an intermediate court of appeals with exclusive jurisdiction over cases to which the state, a state agency, or a state official is a party. The justices on this new Fifteenth Court of Appeals are elected statewide, ensuring that all Texans have a voice in the selection of judges who decide cases of statewide importance.”

Some recent points of contention between the state and the Third Court of Appeals — that were eventually slapped down by the Texas Supreme Court — include cases over Harris County’s mask mandate, the state’s investigations into child gender modification as abuse, and whether individuals could bring suit against power grid regulators for directives during the 2021 blackouts.

On Tuesday, Abbott also announced two appointments to the third division of the newly created business court established by House Bill 19 last year. Melissa Andrews and Patrick Sweeten were appointed to two-year terms beginning September 1.

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