June 2004 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A Texas state appeals court judge known for his practice of displaying the Ten Commandments in his courtroom has been narrowly confirmed by the state Senate for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court.

During his confirmation hearing in early May before the Senate Nominations Committee, Appeals Court Judge Scott Brister refused to detail his beliefs about the separation of church and state.

Democratic senators grilled Brister, who was nominated to the high court in November by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, about his viewpoint on religious liberty.

Democratic Sen. Juan Hinojosa asked Brister if he believed in the separation of church and state. Brister responded that it "depends on the circumstances." He also added that he never noticed any attorneys or juries influenced by his Ten Commandments display.

Upon further prodding, Brister said the "two institutions are separate to the extent required to be kept separate."

Democratic Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos said Brister's dodging of the questions on church-state separation was unlike anything he'd seen during his 20 years in the Texas Senate, The Houston Chronicle reported.

The newspaper noted that a Houston lawyer filed a federal lawsuit in 1998 to force removal of Brister's Commandments display. The federal judge tossed out the lawsuit, however, on grounds that the attorney did not have standing to bring it.