Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s clashes with conservative activists are nothing new: A bitter battle over racial preferences and liberal judges has raged in the tight-knit world of Lone Star politics since 2001.

In the days following George W. Bush’s election to the presidency, the newly minted Gov. Perry had a chance to prove his mettle by nominating justices to fill two Texas Supreme Court vacancies. Following Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful 1987 nomination of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court, conservative activists had been awakened to a new kind of politics — the politics of judicial nominations — and Perry’s selection of Xavier Rodriguez in Texas only made them angrier.

Born in San Antonio, Rodriguez was educated at Harvard before returning to earn his law degree in his home state and practice law with Fulbright & Jaworski, where he became a partner. Though described by one opponent as “a decent lawyer and a decent guy,” the young attorney’s nomination forced his experience and beliefs onto Texas conservatives’ collective radar.

And when conservative lawyer Steven Wayne Smith picked up his newspaper and read that Rodriguez named the reliably liberal Supreme Court Justice David Souter as his judicial role model, any ideas Gov. Perry may have had of an uneventful appointment went out the window.

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