AUSTIN (KXAN) — After being formally slapped on the wrist for comments made about Gov. Greg Abbott’s disability in 2019 and wearing a pink “pussyhat” in Travis County Commissioners Court in 2017, now-Senator Sarah Eckhardt has been cleared of sanctions placed on her by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
A special court of review found that the commission disciplining Eckhardt for the two incidents was an overstep, and overturned the sanction of “public admonition,” essentially a warning, which has been in place since 2020.
“Today, the First Amendment won in Texas! Our freedom of speech — especially political speech — is foundational to our democracy. That’s why we fought this in court, and I’m thrilled that our rights won the day!” Eckhardt said in response on Twitter.
The special court of review ultimately looked at whether Eckhardt could even be disciplined by a body focused on judicial conduct in her role as Travis County judge, which is only a title in name. In the end, they sided with Eckhardt, saying the role had no judicial power. The court also weighed First Amendment issues.
The special court of review consisted of three Texas court of appeals judges, all Republicans.
The incidents in question
Jan. 2017: Eckhardt wore a pink “pussyhat” while conducting a Travis County commissioners meeting in her role as Travis County judge. The hats were worn nationwide in protest of Pres. Donald Trump.
Sept. 2019: While sitting on a panel at the Texas Tribune Festival, Eckhardt responded to a moderator’s comment about “actions at the state government level in Texas to override or preempt local government measures, such as regulation of ride sharing services and tree preservation ordinances” with a statement about how Texas Governor Greg Abbott “hates trees because one fell on him.”
Gov. Abbott was paralyzed in 1984, when a tree fell over and hit him while he was jogging.
In a later statement to the Tribune, Eckhardt apologized, adding, that her comment did nothing to further the debate or political discourse.