The Texas System of Law
The Texas System of Law
The Texas government follows the model provided by the Federal government. If you are familiar with the organization of the Federal government and the Federal legal system, you will have some familiarity with the Texas system.
The Texas Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is followed by statutes enacted by the legislative branch and regulations and rulings issued by the executive branch. The judicial branch has the ability to review each of these rules to ensure that they are legal and applied correctly.
The Texas Constitution
The basic law of the State of Texas is set out in the Constitution of the State of Texas, a document adopted by the voters of the State in 1876 and amended by them many times since then. The fundamental legal rights which all residents of the State possess—such as the right to trial by a jury—are set out in the Constitution in what is called the Bill of Rights
The Constitution also contains basic principles for the operation of the state government and legal system. It separates the powers of the government by dividing it into three distinct branches or departments: legislative, executive, and judicial.
The Legislative Branch
The legislative branch includes the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate, which together make up the Legislature.
The function of the Legislature is to make laws, which are called statutes. Statutes, written and passed by the Legislature, include such things as the law which makes it illegal to drive while intoxicated and the law which makes the Fourth of July a state holiday. The Constitution, adopted by the voters themselves, is superior to the statutes passed by the elected members of the Legislature. For this reason, if there is a conflict between a provision of the Constitution and that of a statute, the statute is said to be “unconstitutional” and may not be enforced.
The Executive Branch
The role of the executive branch is to carry out and enforce the laws of the State. The executive branch includes the Office of the Governor and most administrative agencies of the State, such as the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Education Agency, and the Department of State Code establishes professional standards which the State Constitution makes mandatory for judges.
In addition, the Constitution establishes a special commission to consider citizen complaints concerning the conduct of judges which is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of their duties, or which casts public discredit upon the judiciary or the administration of justice. This Commission on Judicial Conduct may reprimand or censure a judge, or recommend to a review tribunal that the judge be removed from office. The Commission may also suspend from office judges who are indicted for felony offenses or charged with official misconduct. It does not, however, review the legal results of a trial as this is within the jurisdiction of the appellate courts.
The Judicial Branch
The judicial branch of Texas government includes the court system of the state and the judicial agencies, such as the Office of Court Administration. Its role is to interpret the law and to resolve legal disputes. It is the smallest branch of state government.
The meaning of a constitutional provision is not always obvious; the intent of a statute is not always clear; the actions of an executive agency are not always correct. The function of the courts is to resolve these issues, as well as to resolve disputes arising between citizens of the State.