Texas Supreme Court Jurisdiction, Part III: What’s Old May Be New in the Statutory Renovation

By September 1, 2017February 10th, 2020Appellate Practice, Texas Supreme Court

The Texas Legislature has made significant changes to statutes demarcating the Texas Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. In what appears to be an effort to renovate, the legislature has done more than change the wallpaper. It has tried to simplify jurisdiction by applying the same jurisprudential-importance standard to both final orders/judgments and appealable interlocutory orders. In doing so, the legislature has removed entire sections of the existing statutes like a contractor tearing up old carpet.

Analogous to hardwood floors gracefully aging under a carpet, the standard isn’t new. The existing legislation has long weaved jurisprudential importance into a basis for jurisdiction. Jurisprudential-importance arguments have also served other purposes. For instance, savvy practitioners have argued jurisprudential importance to convince the Supreme Court to grant their petitions, not merely establish jurisdiction. Now, however, the standard will present a threshold issue for all appealing parties to argue. Like the hardwood floors, the standard will now be exposed for all to behold and will be used more frequently.

The effect may be that the jurisprudential-importance standard changes as it carries the weight of more footsteps. At least initially, the legislative changes will likely create an influx of more cases as practitioners test the new jurisdictional bounds. It will also expose the jurisprudential-importance standard to increased scrutiny. This scrutiny may—through persuasive argument or functional necessity—cause the Supreme Court to clarify and refine the standard.

Speculation aside, the Supreme Court has, in the past, indicated what questions it considers to be sufficiently important to the state’s jurisprudence. Although the legislative changes have eliminated the conflict/dissent bases for jurisdiction, the Supreme Court has indicated that questions dividing or vexing the lower courts are important. It has also indicated that questions presenting constitutional issues or statutory construction are important. The Supreme Court has further indicated that questions widely impacting the practice of law, questions that are likely to reoccur, or questions that have a broad impact are important. As some of these limited examples indicate, the standard can be, at times, subjective and open to interpretation, which fosters a certain level of uncertainty regarding jurisdiction predicated solely on this standard.

What is certain, however, is that open questions remain concerning whether the standard evolves and, if it does, how those changes manifest themselves.