St. Mary's Law Journal
The Texas Supreme Court from 1911–1921 is best known not for the law it made or the opinions it wrote, but for its failure to decide cases. Although the supreme court’s difficulty in clearing its docket existed before 1911, the number of outstanding cases exploded during the second decade of the twentieth century.
Arguably, the issue of statewide prohibition and the divergent views held on that issue by members of the Texas Supreme Court was the driving force behind the disharmony and dysfunctionality of the court during this decade. Statewide prohibition explains why elections of candidates to the court were so fiercely contested, explains how the court’s membership was shaped, and suggests why the court was unable to properly perform its work. The internal divisions of the court, exemplified by the inability of the members to work together to reduce the court’s docket, and by their differences in legal thought, contributed substantially to the view that the Texas appellate judicial system was broken.
The eventual result of this tumultuous period of the Texas Supreme Court was the legislature’s creation of the Committee of Judges in 1917 and the Commission of Appeals in 1918 in an attempt to reduce the multi-year backlog of cases. That Commission, designed to exist for just two years, remained in existence until the expansion of the membership of the Texas Supreme Court from three to nine in 1945.
Michael S. Ariens, The Storm Between the Quiet: Tumult in the Texas Supreme Court, 1911-21, 38 St. Mary’s L.J. 641 (2007).