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Rise of Judicial Management in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, 1955-2000

Steven Harmon Wilson

Publication Year: 2002

This is the first book-length study of a federal district court to analyze the revolutionary changes in its mission, structure, policies, and procedures over the past four decades. As Steven Harmon Wilson chronicles the court's attempts to keep pace with an expanding, diversifying caseload, he situates those efforts within the social, cultural, and political expectations that have prompted the increase in judicial seats from four in 1955 to the current nineteen.

Federal judges have progressed from being simply referees of legal disputes to managers of expanding courts, dockets, and staffs, says Wilson. The Southern District of Texas offers an especially instructive model by which to study this transformation. Not only does it contain a varied population of Hispanics, African Americans, and whites, but its jurisdiction includes an international border and some of the busiest seaports in the United States. Wilson identifies three areas of judicial management in which the shift has most clearly manifested itself. Through docket and case management judges have attempted to rationalize the flow of work through the litigation process. Lastly, and most controversially, judges have sought to bring "constitutionally flawed" institutions into compliance through "structural reform" rulings in areas such as housing, education, employment, and voting.

Wilson draws on sources ranging from judicial biography and oral-history interviews to case files, published opinions, and administrative memoranda. Blending legal history with social science, this important new study ponders the changing meaning of federal judgeship as it shows how judicial management has both helped and hindered the resolution of legal conflicts and the protection of civil rights.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Studies in the Legal History of the South


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I wish to acknowledge my gratitude to all of the sitting, senior, and retired judges of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, who granted me lengthy interviews and allowed me access to personal papers. I am also indebted to the Southern District's clerk, Michael Milby, and his staff for allowing me on several occasions to disrupt their office while I examined their administrative files. Barbara Rust and her efficient staff at the...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 1-10

the southern district of texas embraces more than 44,100 square miles, approximately one-fifth of the real estate in Texas. Its edge is delineated on the southwest by 250 miles of the Rio Grande, the river that marks the border between the United States and Mexico. In its nearly 400-mile sweep to the northeast from the Rio Grande, the district encompasses a ribbon of Texas that...

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ONE: The Varieties of Public School Desegregation

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pp. 11-49

"In the long run," U.S. District Judge James V. Allred Jr. cautioned the plaintiffs in his Corpus Christi courtroom in 1957, "I don't know whether you are going to be able to accomplish a great deal by lawsuits or not."1 Allred offered this observation during one of the earliest school desegregation suits to be filed in the Southern District of Texas after the...

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TWO: Legislation, Litigation, and Judicial Economy

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pp. 50-92

Among the methods for judicial selection, Benjamin Franklin declared during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, was "the Scottish practice," under which the "nomination proceeded from the Lawyers, who always selected the ablest of the profession in order to get rid of him, and share his practice among themselves."1 The vice president's motives were...

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THREE: The Rules and Exceptions of Border Justice

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pp. 93-139

When Judge Reynaldo Garza replaced the late Judge Allred in the Southern District of Texas, he became one of only four federal district judges responsible for trying federal civil and criminal cases in the six court divisions.1 Judge Garza principally held court in Brownsville, his hometown on the U.S.- Mexican border, but he periodically trekked north 150 miles, to preside over cases...

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FOUR: Managing "Our Federalism" in the Southern District

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pp. 140-188

During the late 1960s minority claimants' goals expanded, grew diffuse, and became more controversial. Would-be "structural reform" litigants challenged federal district judges to intervene in and to reform the alleged constitutional deprivations in school discipline, criminal prosecutions, and other domains of public governance traditionally considered to be...

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FIVE: Judicial Management of Triethnic Integration

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pp. 189-232

New federal civil rights statutes of the 1960s authorized federal oversight of state policies on a scale not seen since the Reconstruction era. The U.S. Supreme Court supported these laws in a series of landmark opinions.1 Advocates of federal judicial protection of minorities feared that President Nixon's 1969 appointment of Warren Burger to replace Earl Warren...

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SIX: Federal Criminal Justice on Trial in the 1970s

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pp. 233-280

According to the first rule of civil procedure, the federal judiciary's primary goal in civil disputes is to facilitate "the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action."1 Yet the litigants in civil lawsuits in the Southern District of Texas, especially in the border divisions but not only there, often faced substantial delays in getting their cases heard...

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SEVEN: Adjuncts and the Oversight of Corporate Misconduct

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pp. 281-326

In his December 1978 memorandum setting out the judicial work assignments for 1979, Chief Judge Reynaldo Garza informed the judges of the Southern District that no new criminal cases were being assigned to Judge John Singleton after 1 January, until further notice. This was at the request of Singleton, who reported that he would soon begin "a long-winded criminal...

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EIGHT: Masters, Magistrates, and Managerial Judges

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pp. 327-354

In the late 1970s federal district judges began to pass on responsibility for monitoring school desegregation plans to task forces, expert panels, and multiethnic citizens' committees. This occurred in Houston, for example, where the parties agreed within a short time---at least, short relative to the total time consumed by the litigation---to the mediated settlement and dismissal of the...

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Conclusion: Just, Speedy, and Inexpensive Resolutions

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pp. 355-358

In their 1927 study of the federal judicial system, The Business of the Supreme Court, Felix Frankfurter and James Landis declared that "the business of the courts is determined by the nature and extent of the predominant activities of contemporary life."1 In 1983 Professor Owen Fiss attributed "bureaucratization of the judiciary" to the "growing size and complexity of American society...


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pp. 359-520

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 521-546


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pp. 547-559

E-ISBN-13: 9780820327280
E-ISBN-10: 082032728X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820323633
Print-ISBN-10: 0820323632

Page Count: 576
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: Studies in the Legal History of the South
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OCLC Number: 656846631
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Rise of Judicial Management in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, 1955-2000

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Subject Headings

  • United States. District Court (Texas : Southern District) -- History.
  • Court administration -- Texas -- History.
  • Complex litigation -- Texas -- History.
  • Justice, Administration of -- Texas -- History.
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