It’s Been 92 Years Since Texas Had An All-Woman Supreme Court

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By Becky FogelJanuary 12, 2017 10:59 am

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

Sunday marked the 92nd anniversary of the first time an All-Woman Supreme Court met to hear a case in Texas. Starting in 1924, then-Governor Pat Neff had started looking for special court justices to serve in specific cases. Dr. Jessica Brannon-Wranosky, a professor of history at Texas A&M University-Commerce has more:

“The reason that they had been looking for special justices to fill these positions was that – all three members of the actual Texas Supreme Court – had to step down from a case because they were all members of an organization called the Woodmen of the World which is an international, fraternal organization basically,” she says. 

That case? Johnson v. Darr – and it had to do with whether or not trustees of the Woodmen of the World were entitled to land in El Paso. But when Gov. Neff started looking for alternative justices to hear the case basically all of the white attorneys he approached were members of that fraternal organization too.

“Because it’s in the middle of the Jim Crow era, it doesn’t appear he ever approved African-African men to serve as special justices,” she says. “And so after going through a series and realizing he couldn’t find anybody that wasn’t a member of Woodmen of the World, he said well if Woodmen of the World is an all-male organization, then we should be able to find some women attorneys, and appoint them and that should solve the problem.”

But finding women who had the required seven years of experience as a lawyer to serve as justices was a little tough. Finally, on Jan.1, 1925 Neff named the three women who served on the court. 

They were Hortense Ward of Houston, Ruth Brazzil of Galveston, and Hattie Henenberg of Dallas.

This would be the first and only time this all-woman court would hear a case. Despite their one-hit-wonder status – did this set a precedent for future female justices?

“Historians have dug and dug and dug at this case and looked at the biographies of these women and looked at the professional associations they were connected to and really looking for a yes answer in that and the actual answer is no,” she says. 

Dr. Brannon-Wranosky says what actually positioned women to be judges was the fact that more and more of them were working as lawyers and were part of professional associations. For Pat Neff’s part, appointing the state’s first all-woman Supreme Court was actually one of his last act as Governor of Texas. He was, in fact, replaced by the first woman governor of Texas – Miriam “Ma” Ferguson.

You can learn more about the history of this All-Woman Supreme Court from the Texas State Historical Association.

Texas executed its first inmate of 2017 last night. Christopher Wilkins shot and killed Willie Freeman and Mike Silva in 2005 after the two tricked him into paying $20 for a rock disguised as crack cocaine.

Wilkins’ attorneys had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution – but the court declined to block it.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he will divest his interests in two pipeline companies if he becomes the next U.S. energy secretary, according to the Dallas Morning News.

He currently holds between $200,000 and $500,000 in unvested, restricted stock in Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics.