Texas Senate confirms Brett Busby for Supreme Court post

Texas Tribune News

Gov. Greg Abbott administers the oath of office to Justice Brett Busby on March 20, 2019.
Gov. Greg Abbott administers the oath of office to Justice Brett Busby on March 20, 2019.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

The Texas Supreme Court, down a member since the start of this calendar year, will return to full strength after the Texas Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously to confirm Brett Busby as the high court’s newest justice. He was sworn in Wednesday afternoon and can begin taking part in cases immediately.

Busby, a former Republican appellate justice in Houston who lost his election in November, was Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s second nominee to the high court and his first to require confirmation from the Legislature; justices appointed during the interim do not have to be confirmed by the Senate if they are re-elected before lawmakers convene in Austin.

A former U.S. Supreme Court clerk, Busby was chosen from some two dozen applicants who sought the high court post after Justice Phil Johnson retired in December.

Busby was confirmed along with several dozen other nominees ranging from appointees to the Upper Colorado River Authority to regents for the board of the Texas State Technical College System. Busby will be one of seven men on the nine-member, all Republican court, which gives the last word on civil litigation in Texas.

A seventh-generation Texan, third-generation Eagle Scout, and graduate of Duke University and Columbia Law School, Busby is a well-respected conservative in Texas legal circles who has held leadership roles in the Texas Bar and worked as an adjunct at the University of Texas Law School. He is a member of the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative legal group known for its influence on judicial nominations nationwide, and has contributed to Texas Republican campaigns in the past.

In his application for the high court, when asked to describe a judge whose work he admires, Busby chose the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for his “disciplined development of the interpretive methods of textualism and original public meaning.”

That body is set for further turnover, though, as Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown awaits confirmation by the U.S. Senate for a position on the federal bench. If Brown is confirmed, Abbott could select another judge for the state’s highest civil court.

It’s been just under a month since Abbott appointed Busby. After an uneventful confirmation hearing March 7, Busby was unanimously voted out by the Senate Nominations Committee a week later.

That swift, smooth confirmation reflects a typical nominations process — in which a governor’s pick sails through the Legislature’s upper chamber — at a time when senators are battling over a more contentious confirmation, that of Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, who faces opposition from all 12 of the chamber’s Democrats after his agency botched a controversial citizenship review of some 100,000 Texas voters.

Nominees require two-thirds approval from the 31-member Senate — meaning Democrats have the power to block the governor’s Republican nominees if they choose — but the chamber’s minority party has rarely wielded that power. Whitley has passed out of the Senate’s Nominations Committee but has yet to be called for a floor vote.