Tom Phillips Receives Prestigious Justice Award

By Eckley, Timothy | Judicature, November/December 2007 | Go to article overview

Tom Phillips Receives Prestigious Justice Award


Eckley, Timothy, Judicature


Thomas R. Phillips, former Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, received the highest honor AJS bestows, the Justice Award. Phillips was recognized for a lifetime of dedication and devotion to the fair and impartial administration of justice in the United States. The ceremony was held in Houston, Texas, on November 15, 2007, with over 300 in attendance. Former U.S. secretary of State James A. Baker, III, delivered the keynote address.

AJS President John R. Tunheim praised Phillips for his "extraordinary contributions to the administration of justice in Texas and across the country" and noted that his outstanding leadership has "made our courts more effective, more accessible, and more independent." Seth S. Andersen, AJS Executive Vice President, remarked: "Chief Justice Phillips has been a leading advocate for the adoption of merit-based selection systems for judges in Texas and other states. His commitment to ensuring a fair and impartial judiciary enhances the quality of justice for all."

The Co-Chairs of the 2007 Justice Award were Harry M. Reasoner of Vinson & Elkins, LLP, and Joseph D. Jamail, Jr., of Jamail & Kolius. The late Honorable John L. Hill, Jr., past AJS Board Member and great friend to AJS, served as an original Co-Chair. As AJS President John R. Tunheim stated: "We pay tribute to John Hill, whose record of public service and commitment to improving the administration of justice in Texas and across the country was unparalleled." Judge Martha Hill Jamison will serve out her father's term as a member of the AJS Board of Directors.

In his address former U.S. secretary of State James Baker discussed the importance of the rule of law in an increasingly global community. Noting America's continuing role as the leading example for developing democracies to emulate, secretary Baker said "steadfast obedience to the rule of law is in our nation's best self interest." On Tom Phillips, he said:

I can think of no better example of the American legal system at work than the reforms enacted by the Texas Supreme Court under the guidance of Tom Phillips. It is solid evidence that our system can correct itself for the better. The story, of course, is legendary. Phillips, the youngest chief justice in the state's history, was appointed by Governor Bill Clements in 1987 at a time when the court's reputation was at its lowest. Many Texans believed what "60 Minutes" reporter Mike Wallace had told them-that "justice was for sale" in their state. With Phillips as chief justice, the Texas Supreme Court's commitment to the rule of law took center stage, and its legal opinions became respected across the nation for their scholarship and fairness.

Addressing the friends, family, colleagues, and distinguished guests gathered in his honor, Phillips commented on the seemingly increasing number and magnitude of concerted attacks on judges and the courts. "Because a judge's only appropriate constituency is the law, not a political party, a group of supporters, or even mobilized public opinion," Phillips said, "there will always be some tension between the courts and the popular branches of government. …

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