AUSTIN (KXAN/AP) — Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson is going into private practice.
Jefferson, who was the first black justice on the state's highest civil court, joined on Wednesday the law firm of what will now be called Alexander, Dubose, Jefferson & Townsend.
"When the appointment was made, I had these grandparents come up to me...and they would bring their grandsons and granddaughters, and they would say, 'I want you to meet the first African-American ever to sit in this high position,'" Jefferson said. "So I think it's an American story, inspirational."
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Jefferson to the Texas Supreme Court in 2001 and named him chief justice three years later. All nine justices on the panel are Republicans, but even critics of the court had praised the Jefferson as a moderating voice.
As he steps down, he says he's left the Supreme Court in good hands.
In the future though, Jefferson said he would like to see judges vetted by an independent commission with the governor making the final decision. He says the current process of electing judges doesn't serve Texas well.
"The current system is not based on merit," he said. "It is based by really party affiliation, or the sound of your name, if you have a good name; Wallace Jefferson is a good name for the ballot.
"Or if you can raise a lot of money from the same people who are going to appear before your court which undermines the public confidence in the system."
Jefferson said he couldn't totally rule out seeking another public office, saying it's a "very distant possibility."
The former chief justice said one of the highest honors he has received was when a school was named after him in San Antonio. He's a frequent visitor to Wallace B. Jefferson Middle School.
Jefferson made $170,000 a year as chief justice.
Perry promoted Justice Nathan Hecht last month to replace Jefferson.
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