Five Things You Should Know About The Fifth Circuit, And Its New Texas Judges

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By Becky FogelDecember 18, 2017 2:30 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

The deadline to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act was this past Friday, December 15, but some Texans have more time to enroll. The special enrollment period is open to about 15.8 million people living in 40 counties impacted by Harvey.

Ashley Lopez with KUT News has more.

This extension applies to everyone who lives in those counties, even if they did not experience property damage under Hurricane Harvey. Under this extended enrollment period if you haven’t shopped for a new plan yet, you can call the marketplace call center and get one between now and December 31st. The number for the call center is 1-800-318-2596, but if you want insurance you’ll have to make that call. Going online is not an option anymore.

Last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed two Texans for seats on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in New Orleans. This court covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. This influential and conservative court has a big impact on Texas laws. So in light of these confirmations I want to break down five important things to know about the Fifth Circuit. And to help me do that is Hugh Brady, professor of law and director of the Legislative Lawyering Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

So, first, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willet and former Texas Solicitor General James Ho are filling seats that have been open since 2012 and 2013. Those seats were open for so long that they were classified as “judicial emergencies.” Now, that they’re filled, the court should be able to hear more cases. 

“The judges on the fifth circuit ordinarily sit in three judge panels so this just gives you two additional people you can assign to panels and allow you to dispose of matters that much more quickly,” says Brady.

That’s helpful because the second thing to know about this court is that it’s probably going to be pretty busy in 2018.

Brady says “Usually in an election year, especially in the South, there’ll be a lot of election related cases probably and they’ll be available to help with those.”

Now, on to number 3. Willet and Ho have very conservative judicial track records, which basically makes them a consistent fit for this federal bench.

“Willet and Ho are exemplars of the traditional fifth circuit nominee we’ve had over the last few years. I don’t think that the court is going to swing drastically to the right. It’s already pretty conservative as it is,” Brady says.

For number four, let’s go back to why these two seats remained vacant while Barack Obama was president. It has to do with the nomination process.

“The bottom line is the White House and the Republican senators from Texas couldn’t agree on a nominee until the White House became Republican and that’s the short and simple answer,” Brady says.

And finally, number five: the quick confirmation process for these two judges, which only took about three months, is something President Donald Trump can tout to his supporters.

“And this is one area of success that he can point to energize the base going into an election year to talk about how many conservative judges have been placed on the district courts and the courts of appeals and for very conservative voters, that’s a very important talking point,” Brady says.