Justice Jeff Brown – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas

Being on a state supreme court is a pretty amazing job.  As the highest authority on state laws, you can essentially shape the jurisprudence of your state’s code.  That Justice Jeff Brown is giving that up for a federal trial court seat speaks to the prestige that comes with a lifetime tenure.

Background

Jeffrey Vincent Brown was born in Dallas on March 27, 1970.  Brown graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1992 and received a J.D. magna cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in 1995.  After graduating, Brown spent a year as a briefing attorney for the Texas Supreme Court before joining the Houston office of Baker Botts LLP.[1]

In 2001, the 30-year-old Brown was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the 55th District Court.[2]  Brown was elected to a full term in 2002 and again in 2006.[3]  In 2007, Perry promoted Brown to the Fourteenth Court of Appeals based in Houston, to which he won election to in 2008 and 2012.[4]

In 2013, Brown was appointed by Perry to serve out the unexpired term of Justice Nathan Hecht, who was elevated to be Chief Justice.  Brown was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018, and currently serves as a Supreme Court Justice.

History of the Seat

Brown has been nominated to fill a vacancy opened by Judge Melinda Harmon’s move to senior status on March 31, 2018.  In April 2018, Brown interviewed with the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee (FJEC) created by Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.[5]  Brown then interviewed with the Senators and the White House before being nominated on March 11, 2019.

Legal Experience

Brown’s career in private practice was a relatively short five year stint at Baker Botts LLP (compared to his 18 year career as a judge).  At the firm, Brown worked a civil trial litigation docket, trying fourteen cases over his five years there.[6]  In particular, Brown represented defendants in a number of trials of personal injury matters, generally relating to automobile injury cases.[7]

Jurisprudence

Brown has been on the state bench since 2001, and on the Texas Supreme Court since 2013.  In the latter role, Brown sits on the highest civil court in the state of Texas and has an opportunity to weigh in on issues of Texas civil law.  

On the Texas Supreme Court, Brown established a conservative record.  For example, in a case involving same sex marriage in Texas, Brown sharply criticized a lawyer for a same sex couple for trying to “cynically manipulating” Texas law in an effort to get his clients a marriage license.[8]  In another case, Brown held for a unanimous Supreme Court that restrictive covenants in title deeds requiring homes to be used for a “residential purpose” could not restrict short-term rentals through AirB&B and similar sites.[9] 

Writings & Speeches

Outside of his judicial rulings, Brown has both spoken and written on the law.

Role of a Judge

In 2007, as a trial court judge, Brown authored an article comparing the judicial philosophies of Chief Justice Earl Warren, who focused on ensuring fundamental fairness and justice, and Justice John Marshall Harlan, who held a more limited and restrained view of a judge’s role.[10]  In the article, Brown endorses Harlan as the ideal judge, criticizing in particular Warren’s rulings in Miranda v. Arizona and in Reynolds v. Sims.[11]

Abortion Speech

In January 2016, Brown addressed the Northeast Tarrant County Tea Party regarding the issue of abortion rights in Texas.  Specifically, Brown addressed Texas H.B. 3994, which amended judicial bypass provisions for minor abortions in Texas.[12]  In his speech, he criticized Supreme Court rulings on abortion rights, specifically as they relate to judicial bypass provisions, noting:

“Now, you may be wondering where any of those words [relating to judicial bypasses] appear in the United States Constitution.  They don’t, but…the court at that time, and, to a large extent, still today, finds things in the Constitution that aren’t there.”[13]

He went on to criticize organizations such as Jane’s Due Process, which assist minors in obtaining judicial bypasses, for engaging in “forum shopping.”[14]

Political Activity

Brown has been active in the Texas Republican Party for many years, including volunteering for the campaigns of Cornyn, Abbott, and President George W. Bush.[15]  In addition, Brown was a Republican candidate for judge in each of his campaigns (Texas elects judges on a partisan ballot).

Overall Assessment

Brown has experience on all levels of the Texas court system and looks poised for confirmation to the federal bench.  Given his long tenure as a judge, few can question his legal ability or intelligence.  However, critics may argue that Brown’s criticism of Roe and its progeny, may lead to his disregarding of its dictates.  Given the current majority, it’s unlikely that such questions will block his confirmation.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary 115th Cong., Jeffrey Vincent Brown, Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 27.

[3] See id.

[4] See id.

[5] Id. at 61.

[6] See id. at 51.

[7] See, e.g., Bonnie Allen v. Ed King and Charles King d/b/a Chuck’s Water Well Srv., No. 97-06-02278, 359th Dist. Ct., Montgomery Cnty., Tex. (tried Oct. 1998); Esteban Velasco v. Irene Stern d/b/a Stella Ranch, No. C95-14, Waller Cnty. Ct. of Law No. 1, Waller Cnty., Tex. (tried Oct. 1998); Eldrige Gee v. Galina Bencowitz, No. 95-CV-0447, 56th Dist. Ct., Galveston Cnty., Tex. (tried Jan. 1999). 

[8] See Chuck Lindell, Texas High Court Rejects Bid to Invalidate Early Gay Union, Austin American-Statesman, Apr. 16, 2016.

[9] See Emma Platoff, Texas Supreme Court Sides With Short-Term Renters, Likely Bolstering State’s Fight Against Austin Ordinance, Texas Tribune, May 25, 2018.

[10] Judge Jeff Brown, The Platonic Guardian and the Lawyer’s Judge: Contrasting the Judicial Philosophies of Earl Warren and John M. Harlan, 44 Hous. L. Rev. 253 (Summer 2007).

[11] Id. at 265-276.

[12] See Justice Brown on Recent Abortion Ruling, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsNPbzKcRB0, Jan. 12, 2016 (last visited July 26, 2019).

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id. at 48-49.

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