State high court appointee lauded
Group says Republican chosen to fill unexpired term is evenhanded

By WAYNE SLATER Austin Bureau
The Dallas Morning News
Published November 22, 2003
Scott A. Brister, a Houston appeals court judge with strong backing from business, was named Friday by Gov. Rick Perry to the Texas Supreme Court as someone "who will meet the standards of fairness Texans expect."

Justice Brister, a 48-year-old Republican, fills the unexpired term of Craig Enoch, who resigned to return to private law practice. Justice Brister will seek election next year to a full six-year term.

"He is intelligent, hardworking and committed to ensuring our justice system works for everyone," Mr. Perry said.

With four of the high court's nine justices around him, the Republican governor touted Justice Brister's credentials, including graduating with honors from Harvard Law School and serving as a state district judge and, since 2001, an appeals court judge in Houston. He is chief justice of the 14th Court of Appeals.

"Judge Brister is well-known for applying the facts and the law to a case and is not confused by shenanigans," said Jon Opelt, executive director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse in Houston. "We found him to be evenhanded."

As a judge, Justice Brister was sued by a Houston lawyer who objected to his posting of the Ten Commandments in the courtroom. Justice Brister said he offered to remove the commandments whenever the attorney appeared in his courtroom, but the lawyer never argued a case before him. The lawsuit was dismissed.

"In my experience, during the period of time I had it up as a trial judge, the jurors appreciated it," Justice Brister said. "I'm not a judge so I can get the Ten Commandments up on the wall. But at the same time, I do think to some degree our society is too worried about things like that."

Justice Brister said his posting of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom was legal because they were only one of several legal documents displayed on the wall.

Asked Friday about free legal work he did for abortion opponents, Justice Brister said his past work would have no effect on his decisions on the high court. He said he would not recuse himself from abortion-related cases, including those under the state's parental notification law in which a minor can bypass a parent by seeking judicial approval to undergo the procedure.

"Of course I did pro bono work for a number of groups until I became a judge 14 years ago, when you have to quit that kind of thing. Let me make it clear, I welcome support from anybody and everybody," he said.

As an attorney and as a judge, Justice Brister has been involved in political and legal issues regarding homosexuality. In 1985, he represented eight anti-homosexual City Council candidates in Houston who won the right to place the designation "Straight Slate" beside their names on the ballot.

In 1999, he weighed in on the side of religious conservatives who cautioned that name-change orders for transsexuals could lead to same-sex marriages. Justice Brister said his concerns were both political and legal, warning of the possibility that a transsexual could use a new name to mask the gender and marry someone of the same sex.

"There would certainly be a political concern, but the main concern was if somebody's using us to create a fraud," he said.

As an appellate judge, he has been active in efforts to make court procedures more efficient and to give judges more discretion to impose time limits and limit pre-emptory challenges.

"Justice Brister is an evenhanded, no-nonsense judge who will promote the quick, efficient and accurate administration of justice," Mr. Opelt said. "His favorite phrase is justice delayed, justice denied."

A Waco native, Justice Brister is married and has four daughters. They are members of Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball.


Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

2500 City West Boulevard, Suite 300 • Houston, Texas 77042
E-mail: sosueme@ • Administrative: (713) 267-2302 • Fax: (713) 267-2267