Law • Lucius D. Bunton III

He’s too ornery to be a successful judge? Objection overruled.

YOU CAUGHT ME on a very good day,” Lucius D. Bunton III says with a raspy laugh, eyes twinkling as he sits robeless in his office adjacent to the courtroom in Pecos this past June. He had just learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had affirmed his 1995 opinion in City of Boerne v. Flores (in which his court struck down the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act as unconstitutional), reversing Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “I’m kind of on a high.”

Truth be told, we caught Bunton, a senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, in the middle of a pretty good year, one in which his influence was felt far beyond the Trans-Pecos. Hearing the Supremes sing his song is a pleasant change for the judge, no stranger to being overruled by the conservative Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans. Then there’s the recently completed $19.6 million Lucius D. Bunton III United States District Courthouse in Pecos, where his name is literally etched in stone above the door. (His district, one of four federal judicial districts in Texas, runs from El Paso into East Texas and includes San Antonio, Austin, and Waco.) Most notably, the judge left his mark on the Texas Legislature. This session’s passing of the first-ever comprehensive water bill and the previous session’s creation of the Edwards Aquifer Authority to regulate the pumping of underground water were pushed through with the knowledge that if the Lege wouldn’t

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