The Texas Supreme Court: A Narrative History, 1836-1986

By Byrnes, Don R. | The Journal of Southern History, August 2014 | Go to article overview

The Texas Supreme Court: A Narrative History, 1836-1986


Byrnes, Don R., The Journal of Southern History


The Texas Supreme Court: A Narrative History, 1836-1986. By James L. Haley. Texas Legal Studies Series. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013. Pp. [xxviii], 322. $29.95, ISBN 978-0-292-74458-5.)

It is important to note that this work was a collaborative effort organized by the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society. The original plan called for a three-volume study, and considerable research was done by dedicated volunteers with legal experience before the decision was made to follow the model for recent state court histories that are more focused on the impact of the courts on society and less on legal theories. Completed research was delivered to the writer, a historian who had attended law school but had never practiced law. James L. Haley, a biographer of Sam Houston, was selected to write the narrative history.

Texas had a diverse history before entering the United States in 1845. There was a period of Spanish control, which was replaced by Mexican control as a result of Mexican independence. Texas became a republic in 1836 and was in the position of creating a new court system to replace that inherited from Spain and modified by Mexico. There were significant differences between these legal systems and those of the early Anglo-American colonies. U.S. state legal systems inherited the English emphasis on the common law, along with highly developed legal practices. In the prologue, Haley demonstrates how the Spanish and Mexican legal codes were founded in Roman civil law, and he contrasts the different approaches to debt under Roman civil law and English common law. Under Roman law, recovery of debt did not compromise a debtor's ability to make a living. Under English common law, a more draconian system sent debtors to prison "until they could think of some way to pay what they owed" (p. 2).

Land and water usage rights were another major difference between Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American legal systems. …

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