The Structure of Texas Government
Like the federal government, Texas has three branches of government. Unlike the federal government, Texas does not have co-equal branches of government. The Texas Legislature is the supreme power in the Lone Star State.
The Executive Branch
Texas has a plural executive. Article 4 of the Texas constitution distributes power over several offices, some elected and some appointed:
Governor - elected chief executive.
Lieutenant Governor - elected presiding officer of the Texas Senate, Chair of the Legislative Budget Board, and first in the line of succession for Governor..
Attorney General - elected lawyer for the State of Texas, responsible for interpretation of of the constitutionality of laws.
Secretary of State - appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, chief election officer for election integrity, attests to the signature of the Governor on all official documents, advisor on the Texas border and Mexican affairs.
Commissioner of the General Land Office - elected to manage and administer mineral leases and state lands. Even though this is an Executive Branch function, it is authorized under Article 14, Sec. 1 of the Texas constitution.
Comptroller of Public Accounts - elected to certify biennial budgets of the state.
Commissioner of Agriculture - elected to protect consumers, encourage agricultural production, end hunger in Texas, and develop our agriculture economy which is the largest industry in Texas.
State Board of Education - fifteen members elected to represent the state's fifteen education districts, governor selects a Chair from among the board's members with advice and consent of the Senate.
Others - Railroad Commission, other boards, appointed agency directors.
This confuses many Texans. For example, some ask why the Attorney General hasn't acted to secure our elections, but that's the Secretary of State's job. Many people don't know that the Secretary of State is also responsible for border affairs.
A plural executive distributes executive power over several office. This requires cooperation between the offices to attain a coherent state policy regime. This requirement for cooperation tends to weaken the Executive in relation to the Legislature.
The Judicial Branch
Texas organizes the courts into a hierarchy. It starts at the municipal level and goes all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.
Justice and Municipal Courts - Justice courts exercise the magistrate function in Texas. These courts handle civil actions of less than $10,000 and criminal misdemeanors punishable by a fine only. Municipal courts exercise exclusive original jurisdiction over municipal ordinance crimes, handle criminal misdemeanors punishable by fine only, and have only limited civil jurisdiction. Municipal courts also exercise the magistrate function in Texas.
County-level Courts - There are 254 constitutionally mandated County courts, one for each county. They have original jurisdiction in civil cases between $200 and $10,000. These courts can hear probate and guardianship cases, but contested mattes can be transferred to a District Court. Constitutional county courts can also hear juvenile matters and appeal de novo from Justice and Municipal courts. There are 244 Statutory County courts. They have general jurisdiction and can hear cases of almost all kinds, Their civil jurisdiction is restricted to cases between $200 and $200,000. There are eighteen Statutory Probate Courts.
District Courts - Texas has 467 District Courts. They have original jurisdiction in civil matters over $200, divorces, title to land, and contested elections. They also have original jurisdiction in felony criminal matters. Lower courts only deal with misdemeanors. They can deal with juvenile matters.
Courts of Appeals - Texas has fourteen Courts of Appeals. They have regional jurisdiction, meaning that they can hear cases appealed within their assigned geographical boundaries.
Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals - The Texas Supreme Court has final appellate jurisdiction in civil and juvenile case only. The Court of Criminal Appeals has final appellate jurisdiction over all criminal cases. Notice that Texas effectively has two Supreme Courts, one civil and one criminal.
The most powerful and least accountable elected office in the Texas is the Circuit Court judge. Judges have absolute immunity for actions taken in their office. That means they cannot be prosecuted or sued for mistakes and errors in office. There is no criminal or civil liability for Judges. That's a huge power.
Also Judge is the only elected office that can silence and compel speech. Think about that power. Even the Texas governor cannot silence your freedom of speech. But Judges can. Even more awesome is their power to compel speech and to punish untruthful utterances. Judges can make you talk when you don't want to.
Texans need to follow Judge races much more closely.
The Legislative Branch
The Texas Legislature, like the federal one, is a bicameral body. It is composed of a 31 member Senate and a 150 member House of Representatives. The modern Texas Legislature grew out of the Congress of the Republic of Texas, after Texas' entrance into the federal Union.
The Texas Legislature meets in regular session only in odd-numbered years beginning on the second Tuesday of January. The Texas Constitution limits the length of the regular session to only 140 calendar days. The Lieutenant Governor presides over the Senate. The House elects at each session a Speaker of the House to preside over its functions.
Only the governor may call special sessions, and he he may call as many as he desires. The Governor controls and can limit the agenda of each special session. The Legislature cannot call itself into special session.
The Legislature is by far the most powerful constitutional branch of government in Texas. It has the power of the purse to allocate and deny funds. Because of Texas' plural executive, the Legislature acting as a unified body can determine policies through the state.
The Unconstitutional Fourth Branch
I can't conclude this description of the Texas government without mentioning the Agencies. The agency system in Texas was copied from the federal agency system. The goal of the federal agencies is to break the constitutional constraints of the separation of powers. Texas agencies follow the same unconstitutional design.
Agencies have executive, legislative, and judicial powers all in one body. That's dangerous and unconstitutional. This agency system endures because it is beneficial to career politicians. They can delegate decisions and law-making to unelected, unaccountable agencies as a way to escape responsibility as an elected official.
Consider the vaccine mandates. They were put in place by agencies, and the Congress can't stop them. The Centers for Disease Control took control of airline operations without any congressional authorization. The agency system creates a fourth branch of government that is not accountable to the people or to their elected representatives.
We should be extra vigilant over the Texas agencies, and we should work towards a change in the laws to make them exclusively executive departments. The legislature should not delegate law-making to unelected bodies. That's wrong.