HOUSTON — Unlike many candidates, David Van Os, a Democrat running for the Texas Supreme Court, doesn’t hesitate to bluntly criticize the right wing. He spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of about 150 at a rally Aug. 26 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

Van Os said that the “thievery and criminality” that is “running America today and is trying to run the rest of the world” originated in Texas and, therefore, “Texans have the greatest obligation to confront” the right-wing assault. He argues that the Republican acquisition of power started with the judicial branch in Texas and has developed into a “power machine that exists for enriching the rich.”

He recounted his experience at the Florida recount in 2000 where GOP supporters were waving Confederate flags and where he and his wife were confronted by “mindless goon squads.” He said his wife was called a “baby killer” by one of these individuals. When she informed him that she was a staunch Catholic, did not believe in abortion but supported a woman’s right to choose, and had recently suffered a miscarriage, he responded by asking her if “the D&C felt good.”

Van Os said the U.S. people are at a grave fork in the road: “We have been too nice for too long to people who don’t respect the Constitution of the United States.” He reminded the audience that the nation was founded based on the belief that “we are all created equally.”

Van Os is co-founder of the Texas Progressive Populist Caucus of the Democratic Party. In candidate profiles he presents himself as “the only candidate who will be a voice for the people on the Court” and says “my track record as a union- and workers-side labor lawyer, civil rights lawyer, vocal populist spokesman demonstrates clearly that I will provide that diversity of perspective that is so badly needed.”

Scott Brister is Van Os’ Republican opponent. A resident of suburban Tomball, Brister is a former trial judge who was appointed to office by Gov. Rick Perry last November. Perry, a Bush appointee, was pressured by “pro-life,” anti-abortion groups to make the appointment.

When Brister was asked if he believes in the separation of church and state, he responded, “It depends on the circumstances.” Brister has successfully defended his posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. He has also represented “anti-homosexuality” groups and has been an avid opponent of same-sex marriages.

When he was chief judge of the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston, he wrote the majority opinion throwing out a jury verdict that had been rendered against Exxon Corp. for negligently poisoning drinking water with benzene, which resulted in the leukemia death of an 11-year-old child. Indeed, Brister gave extraordinary assistance to Exxon by permitting the corporation to submit one-sided exhibits directly to the appeals court, in contradiction to Texas law.

In another commercial lawsuit, the public record reflects Judge Brister made the following statement to the plaintiff’s lawyer during the trial: “We’re going to try this case. And if you win we’re going to declare a new trial and we’re going to keep trying it until you lose.” Clearly, Brister does not see himself as an unbiased public servant, which is one of the important characteristics of people holding judicial authority.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.