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The Texas Supreme Court

A Narrative History, 1836–1986

By James L. Haley

Publication Year: 2013

The award-winning author of Sam Houston, Passionate Nation, and Wolf: The Lives of Jack London offers a lively narrative history of Texas’s highest court and how it helped to shape the Lone Star State during its first 150 years.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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p. c-c

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-viii

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pp. ix-xii

"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...

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pp. xiii-xvi

The last book- length history of the Texas Supreme Court was published almost a century ago. Harbert Davenport’s The History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas appeared in 1917, the year the United States entered World War I. As a paradigm for his treatment, Davenport drew on the example of James D. Lynch’s....

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pp. xvii-xxviii

More than thirty years ago, I entered the University of Texas School of Law, enamored of the U.S. Constitution and Americans’ broad notion of “justice.” Two years later, I departed to follow a still keener love of history. Thus, when Bill Pugsley, executive director of the....

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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...

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1. Ancient Heritage, New Circumstance

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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...

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2. Good Intentions, Fitful Beginnings

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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...

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3. A Functioning Judiciary

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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...

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4. The Frontier Court

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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...

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5. The Antebellum Court

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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,...

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6. The Civil War Court

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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...

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7. The Reconstruction Courts

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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....

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8. The Redeemer Court

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pp. 88-116

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...

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9. The Capitol Court and the Public Lands

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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....

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10. The Capitol Court and the Gilded Age

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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...

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11. The Consensus Court

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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 fortyfour years old, later to chair the board of the San Antonio National Bank. Replacing Denman was the highly experienced Frank Alvin Williams, the...

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12. The Wrench in the Gears

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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 the Eddins case, holding that the commission...

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13. The Cureton Court

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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...

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14. The Wartime Court

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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...

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15. The Fifties Court

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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...

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16. The Calvert Court

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pp. 196-204

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...

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17. The Court in Flux

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pp. 206-226

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...

Appendix A. Milestones in the Organization and Operation of the Texas Supreme Court

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pp. 227-234

Appendix B. Justices of the Texas Supreme Court, 1836–2012, with Appointment/Election Dates

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pp. 235-254


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pp. 255-292


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pp. 293-306


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pp. 307-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780292744622
E-ISBN-10: 0292744625
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292744585
Print-ISBN-10: 0292744587

Page Count: 350
Illustrations: 57 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013