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The Texas Supreme Court

The Texas Supreme Court
A Narrative History, 1836–1986

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.

Series: Texas Legal Studies Series, Texas Supreme Court Historical Society

February 2013
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350 pages | 6 x 9 | 57 b&w photos |

“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.

  • Foreword by William S. Pugsley
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Prologue
  • 1. Ancient Heritage, New Circumstance
  • 2. Good Intentions, Fitful Beginnings
  • 3. A Functioning Judiciary
  • 4. The Frontier Court
  • 5. The Antebellum Court
  • 6. The Civil War Court
  • 7. The Reconstruction Courts
  • 8. The Redeemer Court
  • 9. The Capitol Court and the Public Lands
  • 10. The Capitol Court and the Gilded Age
  • 11. The Consensus Court
  • 12. The Wrench in the Gears
  • 13. The Cureton Court
  • 14. The Wartime Court
  • 15. The Fifties Court
  • 16. The Calvert Court
  • 17. The Court in Flux
  • Appendix A. Milestones in the Organization and Operation of the Texas Supreme Court
  • Appendix B. Justices of the Texas Supreme Court, 1836–2012, with Appointment/Election Dates
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

An independent scholar, James L. Haley is the author of fourteen books, including award-winning books on Texas history. Among them are Passionate Nation: The Epic History of Texas and Sam Houston, winner of nine historical and literary awards. Haley’s book Wolf: The Lives of Jack London won the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award for Best Biography. He has also written several novels.


“Important and entertaining—a potent combination!”
H. W. Brands, author of Lone Star Nation, The Age of Gold, and TR: The Last Romantic

“The Texas Supreme Court is more than the sum of its opinions. Its actions reflect the social and legal developments of the Republic and State since 1836, colored by the personalities and judicial styles of more than 150 justices. The Court’s story has been largely neglected in the published histories of Texas, not because it is insignificant or uninteresting, but because no scholar has sorted through the records to get the true story. James Haley has done just that—he’s distilled the facts and produced a historical narrative that is both authoritative and entertaining. Anyone interested in Texas law or Texas history should read this book.”
Thomas R. Phillips, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Texas, 1988–2004


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca
UPCC/Project Muse