Why This GOP Nominee for the Texas Supreme Court Matters

John Devine, who beat incumbent Supreme Court justice David Medina in Tuesday's elections, is a shoo-in for the November contest. Here's what you should know about this GOP nominee for Supreme Court Justice.
Sat August 4, 2012 12:40 am
John Devine for Supreme Court

John Devine, an anti-abortion activist and self-styled "Ten Commandments Judge," will become one of Texas's nine Supreme Court justices early next year, as the Democrats are not fielding a candidate for the seat in the November election.

In the GOP runoff, Devine snagged 53 percent of the vote, ousting incumbent Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina from his Place 4 seat on the court. Devine, a lawyer and former district court judge in Harris County, came back to win the runoff after a seven-point loss to Medina in the May 29 primary.

So who is John Devine, and how did he unseat an eight-year Texas Supreme Court veteran?

Devine, who describes himself as a "strict constitutional constructionist" on his campaign website , first gained national attention when he refused to remove a painting of the Ten Commandments inside his courtroom. These credentials appealed to conservative organizations, and groups including the Eagle Forum, Concerned Women of Texas, and the Liberty Institute rallied behind the 53-year-old candidate in recent months, helping to cement his identity as a hyper-conservative of the Tea Party variety, the Austin American-Statesman 's Chuck Lindell reported. “The Tea Party pushed us over the top,” Devine said of his victory.

And this runoff cycle was cruel to incumbents and establishment candidates (See David Dewhurst v. Ted Cruz ). Medina lost despite the endorsements he had snagged from prominent Republicans like Governor Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, according to the Southeast Texas Record . A writer at the regional law journal also found, "even a poll of the State Bar of Texas showed Medina as the overwhelming favorite among Texas lawyers. Devine came in last in the state bar poll."

The election had been clouded by allegations that Devine had made a racist comment about his competitor. "Two Houston lawyers contended Devine told them he was targeting Medina because 'I can beat a guy with a Mexican last name,'" the Dallas Morning News 's Eden Stiffman reported. Devine told the Texas Tribune 's Morgan Smith that this allegation was "ludicrous" and that he was running because Medina lacks integrity.

But Devine has some ethics violations in his own past, as a Statesman story noted: "Devine was rebuked by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for using his judge's chambers for a political event in 1996 and was sued for unpaid charges on his American Express card, leading to a court order that he repay almost $22,000."

Despite this controversy, Devine must have been confident of his chances, because he reportedly moved his family to Austin from Houston days before vote counting began. “We moved because we believed that God was going to give us a victory,” he said. “We relied on that faith and we were victorious.”

Devine has long been a staunch anti-abortion activist. At a June rally in Fort Worth, Devine told the crowd he had been arrested 37 times while protesting abortion clinics in the 1980s, Smith reported. Though, in a more recent interview, "he said he had been arrested during peaceful protests several times in the 1980s but did not remember how many," Smith reported. Despite this history of activism, Devine insisted he "is still able to interpret the law impartially."

In 2008, Devine and his wife, Nubia, showed everyone just how committed they were to the pro-life position when her seventh pregnancy endangered her life and that of the baby. The Texas Observer 's Emily DePrang wrote about a video his campaign put out called "Elizabeth's story."

It documents the birth of his seventh child, Elizabeth, which his wife carried to term despite the fact that the fetus had a condition likely to kill her. She survived, and the baby died an hour later. The video opens, “What if your beliefs were so powerful, they allowed you to fearlessly risk your life for the life of your unborn child?” and concludes, “Though Elizabeth died only an hour after she was born, her life began at conception.”

Taken together, these details about Devine's biography led DePrang to describe him in an election-night live blog as "truly a radical jurist" and who will likely become the state's "most right-wing Supreme Court justice" ever.

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