The Texas Supreme Court

The Texas Supreme Court: A Narrative History, 18361986

JAMES L. HALEY
Copyright Date: 2013
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/744585
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  • Book Info
    The Texas Supreme Court
    Book Description:

    "Few people realize that in the area of law, Texas began its American journey far ahead of most of the rest of the country, far more enlightened on such subjects as women's rights and the protection of debtors." Thus James Haley begins this highly readable account of the Texas Supreme Court. The first book-length history of the Court published since 1917, it tells the story of the Texas Supreme Court from its origins in the Republic of Texas to the political and philosophical upheavals of the mid-1980s.

    Using a lively narrative style rather than a legalistic approach, Haley describes the twists and turns of an evolving judiciary both empowered and constrained by its dual ties to Spanish civil law and English common law. He focuses on the personalities and judicial philosophies of those who served on the Supreme Court, as well as on the interplay between the Court's rulings and the state's unique history in such areas as slavery, women's rights, land and water rights, the rise of the railroad and oil and gas industries, Prohibition, civil rights, and consumer protection. The book is illustrated with more than fifty historical photos, many from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It concludes with a detailed chronology of milestones in the Supreme Court's history and a list, with appointment and election dates, of the more than 150 justices who have served on the Court since 1836.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-74462-2
    Subjects: History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xii)
    William S. Pugsley

    “There’s nothing entertaining about a state court. It’s legal drudgery.” I was told this by a respected historian when the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society was sizing up the task of writing the present volume. I disagreed then, and continued to disagree over the years, yet had only my theatrical predisposition to see dramatic conflict in the most casual interactions to buttress my opinion. But as soon as the manuscript chapters for the first book-length history of the Texas Supreme Court since 1917 began rolling off Jim Haley’s printer in 2010, I had the proof I needed. Filling the pages...

  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xxviii)
    James L. Haley and William S. Pugsley
  6. PROLOGUE
    (pp. 1-4)

    When Texas voters line up at the polls every other November, they do so to choose not just their statewide executive officials and the next legislature, but also that portion of their judiciary standing for election. Included on the ballot are candidates for the Texas Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and the fourteen regional Courts of Appeals. The judges elected to serve on those appellate benches join a vast judicial system that also includes more than 450 state district court judges, 500 county court judges, 800 justices of the peace, and 1,500 municipal court judges.¹

    Very few of...

  7. ONE ANCIENT HERITAGE, NEW CIRCUMSTANCE
    (pp. 5-16)

    With three other last survivors of the Narváez expedition, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca dwelled in Texas for seven years before making his way to colonial civilization and then back to Spain. Organized entradas of exploration and imperial claim soon followed, most prominently by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1540 and Luis de Moscoso de Alvarado in 1542. The explorations sought two commodities: gold to finance the empire, and native souls for the glory of the Catholic Church.¹ In practice, the second goal finished a poor second to the first; not until 1582 did an expedition under Antonio de Espejo...

  8. TWO GOOD INTENTIONS, FITFUL BEGINNINGS
    (pp. 17-30)

    The Republic of Texas maintained its independence by force of arms and international recognition for nine years and ten months, from March 2, 1836, to December 31, 1845, although executive power did not transfer to the United States for a further six weeks. During that decade, four presidents in Texas (five if Sam Houston’s two terms are counted separately) wielded executive authority, including nominating candidates for chief justice and associate judges of the Supreme Court. The provisional president, David G. Burnet (in office from March 16 to October 22, 1836), and more particularly the second elected president, Mirabeau B. Lamar...

  9. THREE A FUNCTIONING JUDICIARY
    (pp. 31-42)

    Frontier mayhem notwithstanding, the Texas courts set to their business with a kind of order that quickly became familiar to both bench and bar. Each district judge traveled in a circuit to hold court in the various counties of his jurisdiction twice a year. The necessity for this travel from court to court consumed large amounts of time, but at least the journeys were not lonely. Since attorneys commonly represented clients in more than one town on a judge’s circuit, they would ride with him for company and, considering frontier conditions, safety. Oran Roberts, whom President Houston appointed district attorney...

  10. FOUR THE FRONTIER COURT
    (pp. 43-52)

    Hemphill’s applied vision of Texas as a country that charted its own jurisprudential course, melding the certainty of the civil law with the safeguards of personal liberty found in the common law, excited the most controversy about legal development in the Republic of Texas. However, during its ten-year existence the Court also issued opinions on numerous cases that, while they did not reach such a high level of legal philosophy as the debate over contending legal systems, deeply affected the lives of ordinary Texans, even as they carved out more of the country’s unique legal identity. The cases also offer...

  11. FIVE THE ANTEBELLUM COURT
    (pp. 53-65)

    The annexation of Texas to the United States became effective when accepted by the American Congress on December 29, 1845, but Texas did not surrender its sovereignty until the formal transfer of power on February 19, 1846. In a rustic ceremony at the hewn-log Capitol in Austin, the Republic’s last president, Anson Jones, gave a speech, intoning, “The final act in this great drama is now performed. The Republic of Texas is no more.” The Lone Star was lowered from the flagpole, and former two-term president Sam Houston stepped forward to take it in his arms. The American flag, now...

  12. SIX THE CIVIL WAR COURT
    (pp. 66-74)

    While history reckons the beginning of the Civil War from the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, in Texas the contest over disunion had been raging for years. For a decade, U.S. senator Sam Houston had struggled grimly to steer a middle course through the crisis over slavery, denouncing northern abolitionists in Boston itself, but even more bitterly excoriating the South’s extreme secessionists.¹ The latter were determined to establish their own cotton-growing nation, notwithstanding the fact that the North had repeatedly sought to accommodate their demands. Houston was forcibly retired from the senate in 1859 by the Texas...

  13. SEVEN THE RECONSTRUCTION COURTS
    (pp. 75-87)

    As Northern victory became ever more certain, Abraham Lincoln determined upon the course, as articulated in his Second Inaugural Address, that would indulge in “malice toward none, with charity for all.” His view of Reconstruction was simple: secession had been illegal; therefore, the Southern states had never really left the Union. As the commander in chief who defeated the rebellion, he would decide the terms of their readmission: the wayward states would have to pledge their renewed allegiance to the Union, revise state constitutions to delete references to slavery, and apply for statehood. The South would be reassimilated into the...

  14. EIGHT THE REDEEMER COURT
    (pp. 88-100)

    Richard Coke’s highly irregular elevation to the Governor’s Mansion in January 1874 gave effect to the popular will, as expressed in his overwhelming election. The downfall of E. J. Davis marked the end of Reconstruction, and Coke’s installation marked the coming of the “Redeemers,” those who meant to restore as much of antebellum southern ways as they could manage, short of provoking a second war.

    Coke’s own tenure on the Texas Supreme Court had been cut short by the commanding general of the occupation, but during his brief time there he showed as much regard for the vox populi as...

  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 101-116)
  16. NINE THE CAPITOL COURT AND THE PUBLIC LANDS
    (pp. 117-128)

    In the last decade of the nineteenth century, cases colored by frontier violence or the memory of sectional strife faded into the background, and the Texas Supreme Court mellowed into a new identity. It became known as the “Capitol Court,” an ethos absorbed from its sumptuous quarters in the new statehouse.

    The Supreme Court room was smaller than the House or Senate chamber, but large enough for the span to be supported by a single fluted column with an exaggerated Corinthian capital. The wide windowsills of red Etowah marble from Georgia topped steam radiators with grilles plated in fourteen-carat gold....

  17. TEN THE CAPITOL COURT AND THE GILDED AGE
    (pp. 129-138)

    The proliferation of railroads changed Texans’ lives in fundamental ways. Trains on the plains rendered obsolete the picturesque trail drives of the cowboys, as the development of the cattle car made possible direct shipment to stockyards. For rural and town dweller alike, arrival of the railroad brought life by mail order; all the conveniences of modern times, from windmills to garden seeds to battery-powered invigorating underwear, could be ordered from sales catalogs such as those of Montgomery Ward or Sears, Roebuck. It was true that the railroad companies enriched themselves on lavish land grants, and then pursued predatory business practices,...

  18. ELEVEN THE CONSENSUS COURT
    (pp. 139-150)

    J. G. Denman resigned from the Court on May 1, 1899, after serving five years and authoring 146 opinions. From private practice he came and to private practice he returned, still only forty-four years old, later to chair the board of the San Antonio National Bank. Replacing Denman was the highly experienced Frank Alvin Williams, the product of an antebellum Mississippi plantation.¹ Nine years old when the Civil War began, orphaned by sixteen and his way of life gone, Williams immigrated to Texas at twenty to live with his sister in Crockett. He read for the law with his brother-in-law,...

  19. TWELVE THE WRENCH IN THE GEARS
    (pp. 151-162)

    The Consensus Court’s decade of amicable productivity spent some of its last capital upholding the constitutionality of the Texas Railroad Commission and its rulings. Whereas a few years earlier, the Court had let stand theEddinscase, holding that the commission violated no federal prerogatives, now it held the agency equally good against a claim that it violated the state constitution’s mandate that a bill’s purpose be stated in its name.¹ In 1905, inInternational and Great Northern Railroad Company v. Railroad Commission of Texas, the Court conceded that the commission’s right “to correct abuses” was not specified in the...

  20. THIRTEEN THE CURETON COURT
    (pp. 163-172)

    Just at the end of Hawkins’s tenure, the Supreme Court added a new man to the staff, second deputy clerk Carl Lyda, who would work for the Court for the next forty-five years. Hawkins’s reputation as the deadweight that sank the Court’s efficiency might have taken a toll on him, as he struck Lyda as “a man who continually ‘carried a chip on his shoulder,’ especially in his relationship with the other justices and personnel of the Court.”¹

    Not surprisingly, Hawkins was unable to hold on to his seat on the Court, losing the 1920 Democratic primary to Judge William...

  21. FOURTEEN THE WARTIME COURT
    (pp. 173-184)

    Chief Justice Cureton had suffered for many years from chronic heart disease, and a heart attack ended his life on April 8, 1940. He was sixty-five, and had bested the tenure of the legendary John Hemphill with nineteen years’ service as chief justice. His death heralded the beginning of an era of rapid changes on the Court, in personnel, in mode of operation, and in the sophistication required to survive as a justice in an increasingly politicized arena.

    With less than a year until the next election, Governor W. Lee O’Daniel appointed seventy-one-year-old William Folsom Moore to replace Cureton as...

  22. FIFTEEN THE FIFTIES COURT
    (pp. 185-195)

    When Alexander died, Governor Beauford Jester appointed the popular, Bible-teaching John Hickman as chief justice and filled the vacancy on the Court with prominent Houston attorney Wilmer St. John Garwood. Garwood was the scion of an important political family in Bastrop—his father had served in both the state House and Senate—and was representative of a new breed of Texas justice. Impeccably educated at Georgetown University, the University of Texas, and Harvard, Garwood and his generation of more urbane and scholarly jurists began to shift the perception of the Texas Supreme Court away from its uniquely colorful heritage. Chief...

  23. SIXTEEN THE CALVERT COURT
    (pp. 196-205)

    Late in Hickman’s tenure, two more important justices joined the Court. James Rankin Norvell, fifty-four, had the distinction of being the first nonnative to come east to Texas instead of west from the Old South. Born and raised in Colorado, he obtained his law degree from the University of Colorado before settling in the Rio Grande Valley in 1926. There the lack of legal work led him into detours, one with a title company and one with a railroad, before starting his own law firm in 1930. He had no judicial experience when Governor “Pappy” O’Daniel placed him on the...

  24. SEVENTEEN THE COURT IN FLUX
    (pp. 206-218)

    Calvert was followed as chief justice in 1972 by Joe Robert Greenhill, whose association with the Supreme Court dated back to his days as a briefing attorney on the eve of World War II. As a jurist he was regarded as slightly to the left of Calvert and just a touch more willing to invoke equity to see justice done in a case. He was devoted to the institution and keenly interested in recording its history.¹

    One area in which the Greenhill Court had its work set out for it was in administrative law. Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions in...

  25. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 219-226)
  26. APPENDIX A. MILESTONES IN THE ORGANIZATION AND OPERATION OF THE TEXAS SUPREME COURT
    (pp. 227-234)
  27. APPENDIX B. JUSTICES OF THE TEXAS SUPREME COURT, 1836–2012, WITH APPOINTMENT/ELECTION DATES
    (pp. 235-254)
  28. NOTES
    (pp. 255-292)
  29. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 293-306)
  30. INDEX
    (pp. 307-322)