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

By Moyer, Laura | Justice System Journal, May 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

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


Moyer, Laura, Justice System Journal


The Rise of Judicial Management in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, 1955-2000, by Steve Harmon Wilson. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002. 559 pp.

In The Rise of Judicial Management, part of Studies in the Legal History of the South, historian Steven Harmon Wilson sets his sights on the often-understudied federal district courts and attempts to position his research on the Southern District of Texas at the intersection of legal history and social scientific analysis. These are certainly laudable goals; even a cursory glance at the political science and history literature reveals both a bias toward the higher federal courts and little or no cross-disciplinary communication, with frequent duplication of efforts. However, I begin with a quick forewarning to potential readers: The Rise of Judicial Management is first and foremost a narrative, historical account of the judges and cases before the courts of the Southern District of Texas that offers little in the way of critical analysis, social scientific evidence, or generalizable assertions on judicial management. That said, readers of Justice System Journal may best appreciate the book as a case study on the difficulties of judicial prioritization and implementation.

Wilson argues in his introduction that changes in the quantity and substance of litigation from 1955 to 2000, coupled with federal directives, necessarily changed the operation of the Southern District court and led to the rise of judicial management. Wilson distinguishes among three varieties of judicial management: docket management (maintaining efficient and orderly caseflow), case management (guiding complex litigation through the courts), and public-law litigation (using judicial power outside the courtroom to achieve broad social reform). Wilson gives the most attention to the third of these, public-law litigation, and relies upon the definition of litigation coined by Abram Chayes in which the judge is both "the creator and manager of complex forms of ongoing relief, which have widespread effects on persons not before the court and require the judge's continuing involvement in administration and implementation" (p. 7).

The eight chapters are grouped chronologically and by subject matter. This organizing strategy probably does the least justice to the two chapters dealing with public-school desegregation and integration efforts, separating them by 140 pages. Chapter 1 focuse:- upon challenges in the first decade after Brown v. Board of Education (1954), while chapter 5 picks up the story in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The judicial responses to segregation in the Southern District can be broadly characterized as incremental in nature, and as increasingly less tolerant of the school districts' proclivity to stall. Wilson provides a good description of judges' tactics in developing remedies, including injunctions, advisory panels, hearings, and adoption of federal guidelines fashioned by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW).

Because of southern Texas's large Hispanic population, which was considered to be legally "white," desegregation there posed a number of unusual problems for district judges and litigants. Although the legal barriers erected for African-Americans did not apply to Hispanics, there was much de facto discrimination against MexicanAmericans with respect to linguistic segregation and school districts' reliance upon "neighborhood schools." The distinction between de jure and de facto discrimination is borne out in several desegregation cases that Wilson follows in great detail. In Ross v. Houston Independent School District (1957, 1960) plaintiff African-American parents relied on the Supreme Court's opinion in Brown, whereas in Hemandez v. Driscoll Consolidated Independent School District (1957), the plaintiff Mexican-American parents chose not to rely on Brown's reasoning. Because at that time the Court had not clarified whether Brown applied to nonblack racial minorities, African-Americans argued that their segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause, while Mexican-Americans, not eager to give up their "white" legal status, based their legal arguments on the Due Process Clause. …

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