Foreword: Book 2

Taming Texas: Law and the Texas Frontier


A case usually goes to court first before a single trial judge. The losing side can appeal to a court with several appellate judges. The case may be reviewed by a three-judge panel or by all the judges sitting together (the law calls this en banc). This assures that the decision will not be improperly swayed by any one judge’s views and that the law will be uniform and consistent. For a multi-judge court to function effectively, it needs a leader. On the nine-member Texas Supreme Court, that person is the Chief Justice.

Being chief of anything often means you’re in charge, you have the right to make the decisions. But a Chief Justice is both leader and servant. The Chief presides over Court meetings to keep them orderly, supervises the Court’s work to ensure that all the Justices are cooperating and pulling their fair share of the load, and represents the Court in public. The Chief also manages Court operations, finances, personnel, and facilities. The Court functions best when one person directs its various functions. But the Chief Justice has only one vote, the same as every other Justice. Every case and administrative policy is decided by a majority vote. A Chief who ends up in the minority must serve the will of the majority. That’s part of the job.

A presiding officer who shares authority with others in a group is referred to as the “first among equals.” All the members have an equal say, but the presiding officer is their leader. How does a Chief Justice stay “first” and not be in complete control? You reason with the other Justices and try to persuade them. You offer suggestions, you don’t order them around. You listen to them, hear them out, show that you respect different views. You assume they are all sincere, and that when you disagree, it’s in good faith. You earn the other Justices’ respect, help the Court work better, and strengthen its reputation. You prove to the public that the Court is committed to equal justice for all. And most importantly, you make sure everyone shares the credit. You’re not boss of the Court, but you’re its leader.

This third Taming Texas book by Jim Haley and Marilyn Duncan introduces you to the 27 Chief Justices in the 183-year history of the Texas Supreme Court. As you will see, they had very different backgrounds and personalities. Haley and Duncan write that “their stories can be inspiring or disappointing, fun or tragic.” But all 27 of them led the Court as it wrote the law, case by case, and built the justice system that tamed Texas.

The last six have all been close friends of mine. Along with the 20 others who went before us, they taught me how to be a good Chief Justice. These stories of their lives will help you understand the Texas Supreme Court and its role in history. I hope, as you read them, you’ll also learn how you can be an effective leader.

Nathan L. Hecht, Chief Justice
The Supreme Court of Texas