Texas Review of Books
The historical material and resources available for American legal historians is both too much and too little. Hundreds of published case opinions became thousands of opinions by the end of the 1820s, leading lawyers to conclude that no one could know the entirety of the law. Yet this cascade of information is also too little, because the work of treatise writers and magazine editors of the time was ruthlessly focused on then-existing legal concerns.
For these reasons, James L. Haley works within difficult strictures in his book, The Texas Supreme Court: A Narrative History, 1836–1986. Because his story is about the Texas Supreme Court, he is largely limited to a study of the court’s members and their relationships, and its case decisions. Yet in spite of these and other constraints, Haley has done an impressive amount of work. He provides an insightful general background on Texas, placing the court within the culture of its times, and he expertly drives the narrative with clear and crisp writing.
Unfortunately, though, the strictures attached to this history have made it less than it should have been. Too much of the text is dedicated to biographies of the court’s various justices, and too little is dedicated to the discussion of cases. Further, several of Haley’s opinions reflect dated historical interpretations or make conclusions without citation to any authority. Finally, Haley’s decision to end the history in 1986 is curious, and results in some of the court’s most important shifts being left unacknowledged. The Texas Supreme Court is certainly a valuable work for which Haley should be commended, but it should have been better.
Michael S. Ariens, The Texas Supreme Court: A Narrative History, 1836–1986 (book review), 34 Tex. Books in Rev. 12 (Spring 2014).