Last year was a busy year at the Harris County Law Library. Our patrons visited over 61,000 times and our law librarians answered more than 25,000 questions. That’s over 100 question per day at our reference desk! Click to download our report, Harris County Law Library: 2018 by the Numbers, to check out more stats on how we serve our community everyday.
Come see the latest addition to our library walls, an historic photograph composite from 1912 of leading members of Houston’s legal community. Seven of the featured portraits depict founders of the Harris County Law Library. On your next visit here, challenge yourself to spot them all.
Today, Houston is proud to be the most diverse city in the United States, and is defined by its rich and unique blend of cultures, both in our legal community and our population at large. While the 1912 Houston Bench and Bar was noticeably less diverse, the composite itself heralds change and hints and our city’s future as it includes portraits of two women, Hortense Ward and Alice S. Tiernan. Ward was the first woman licensed to practice law in Texas. Tiernan passed the bar shortly thereafter, and became one of the fewer than 1% of women trial attorneys nationwide.
On August 30, 1967, Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as an Associate Justice to the United States Supreme Court, beginning what would become a 24-year career as a judge and one of the most-noted liberal voices on our nation’s highest court. Nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Marshall became the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, a milestone that capped his illustrious legal career and his lifelong fight for equality and civil rights. In 2016, in honor of National African American History Month, the Harris County Law Library created a digital exhibit celebrating the life and legacy of Justice Marshall highlighting his career as a civil rights attorney, Solicitor General and Supreme Court justice. Being nominated to the highest court is an accomplishment in and of itself, but to survive the arduous confirmation process is a true test in perseverance and a sign of one's worthiness.
Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution gives the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, the power to nominate persons to the Supreme Court. The appointment itself is just one part of a complex process that culminates, in most instances, with the swearing in of a new Supreme Court justice. It begins with the pre-hearing stage, which is investigative in nature, with the nominee responding to detailed questions posed by members of the Senate's Committee on the Judiciary seeking biographical, professional, and financial information. The American Bar Association, through its Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, also conducts its own independent, impartial evaluation of the candidate, focusing on his/her professional qualifications and competence as well as the nominee’s integrity and judicial temperament. The ABA does not consider the nominee’s political affiliation or ideology in its evaluation. The investigative stage is followed by the hearing stage at which the nominee testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. This has been the practice since 1955. The hearings consist of statements by the chair and other members of the committee as well as an opening statement by the nominee. Questioning by the committee ensues. These hearings serve many purposes, including enlightening those members of the Senate who may still be undecided and emphasizing certain issues. Public witnesses are also invited to appear. After the public hearings, the committee meets with the nominee privately in a closed door committee session. The final step is the reporting of the recommendation to the full Senate.
Justice Marshall was confirmed by the Senate with a vote of 69 yeas and 11 nos. You can access the Senate's report in the Congressional Record at the new service provided by the United States Government Publishing Office, Govinfo. Additional articles about Thurgood Marshall's confirmation can be found in Harvard Black Letter Journal available here at the Law Library through HeinOnline. Check out our previous blog post for information on how to access HeinOnline via your own mobile device.
To learn more about the United States Supreme Court Nomination and Confirmation process, please see:
- Supreme Court Appointment Process: Consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee
- Supreme Court Nominations Research Guide from Georgetown Law Library
- Supreme Court Nominations: present-1789
On September 4, you will have the opportunity to follow the confirmation hearings held by the Senate's Committee on the Judiciary as public hearings are scheduled to begin regarding nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. Check out the Committee's website for nomination resources.
On this day in 2017, Harris County was still reeling from the devastation caused by the worst flooding event in U.S. history. A year later, Hurricane Harvey's toll is still being felt throughout our community. That is why the Harris County Law Library remains committed to connecting those impacted with relevant information about resources and services to help with recovery. Visit our Harvey Recovery Resources page or visit our downtown Houston location to find information on legal helplines, referral services, and clinics that can help with the legal aspects of the recovery process.
In honor of Women’s History Month, the Harris County Law Library is paying tribute the life and accomplishments of a remarkable woman, Camille Elizabeth Stanford Openshaw. At a time when women’s educational and career options were very limited, Ms. Openshaw excelled not only as an attorney but as a leader in the local legal community.
Just five years after graduating from South Texas College of Law in 1930, she was elected to the board of directors of the Lawyers Library Association, the first woman to hold the position. She later distinguished herself as a founding partner of the Houston law firm, McIntosh & Openshaw. But perhaps her most sensational claim to fame was her representation of former bank robber, kidnapper, murderer, and fugitive, Raymond Hamilton, whose exploits with the infamous Clyde Barrow Gang resulted in his ultimate execution. Despite Ms. Openshaw’s best efforts to spare his life with a last-minute plea to the State Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, Hamilton was put to death on May 10, 1935.
To learn more about Ms. Openshaw, please visit the Harris County Law Library’s downtown location, where an exhibit honoring her accomplishments will be on display throughout the month of March. An accompanying digital exhibit can be viewed on the library’s website.
In 1925, the historian, Carter G. Woodson, called for a week-long celebration to recognize the contributions of African Americans in the development of our country. Negro History Week was celebrated for the first time in 1926 and expanded to a full month in 1976, the year of our nation's sesquicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
This year, the tradition continues. In the presidential proclamation issued by the White House on January 31, 2018, a special theme was designated commemorating the contributions of African Americans in Times of War. To educate and inform the public about the significant contributions of African Americans in combat, the National Archives has assembled an extensive list of resources called Blacks in the Military.
We at the Harris County Law Library hope to do our part in honoring National African American History Month. We'd like to call greater attention to the many notable African Americans who have played such crucial roles in shaping the law and achieving civil rights. With a special exhibit, we honor the first African American to rise to the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court and perhaps the most influential African American lawyer in U.S. history -- Justice Thurgood Marshall.
An exhibit commemorating the extraordinary life of Justice Marshall will be on display in the Law Library lobby throughout the month, and a digital exhibit is available on the Law Library's website.
For additional digital resources celebrating African American history and the remarkable life of Justice Thurgood Marshall, please visit the following sites:
The Legal Tech Institute at the Harris County Law Library launched in October, 2016, with the CLE Social Media for Lawyers. Building on the success of that program, we've expanded learning opportunities significantly with a dozen in-person courses and 5 On-Demand training sessions available on our website. As with all programs at the Harris County Law Library, LTI classes are always free and open to all.
Additionally, each LTI video CLE is accredited by the State Bar of Texas and Texas attorneys can receive credit for watching the videos up to a year after the live program. That means the LTI anniversary also marks the end point for receiving Texas CLE credit for our first program. Watch Social Media for Lawyers and report your credit at www.texasbar.com before time runs out!
October 1 is a special day each year at the Harris County Law Library. On October 1, 1915, attorneys gathered in downtown Houston for our institution's official grand opening and each year that passes gives us a chance to reflect on the progress we've made in serving our patrons and fulfilling our mission.
Two years ago, the Law Library marked the occasion by inviting the local legal community to join us for a Centennial Celebration featuring a keynote address from Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht. During his address, the chief justice noted that, throughout the centuries, great thinkers have reiterated the sentiment that "knowledge is power," including influential writers, from the drafters of the Texas Constitution to novelists George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four) and Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451), who make the point that access to knowledge is essential in a free society. The chief justice connected these historical themes with the Centennial Celebration by noting that "[i]t is in opposition to a suppression of knowledge, and in support of its general diffusion, that we gather in celebration of this great public law library."
Inspired by Chief Justice Hecht's words and driven by a mission to promote access to justice through access to legal information, the Law Library continues to expand opportunities for our patrons to gain knowledge. We've launched our Legal Tech Institute, which provides free training opportunities to attorneys and members of the public who might otherwise be left behind by technological advancements in our justice system. In a short time, we will further expand available legal tech training opportunities to include experiential learning with our Hands-On Legal Tech Training program, thanks to a generous grant from the Texas Bar Foundation. A legal clinic from Houston Volunteer Lawyers is now available in the Law Library 5 days per week to connect individuals with limited means with legal information for a licensed volunteer attorney.
When disaster struck, the Law Library launched the Harvey Recovery Resources page to help connect Houstonians with information on available local, state, and federal aid. In each instance, the Law Library works to disseminate knowledge and empower our patrons to participate as informed citizens in our Harris County government.
Many of the fundamental values we cherish, including liberty, equality, and freedom from tyranny, are direct descendants of the rights established by the Magna Carta more than 800 years ago. These ideals are embodied in our nation's founding documents and embraced by people around the world, even in countries whose governments deny any such protections to their citizens.
Following World War II and the atrocities it spawned, an effort unfolded in the United Nations to codify the inalienable rights of people everywhere. The Human Rights Commission was established in 1946 as a standing body of the UN to draft the defining document. Two years later, on December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted. Nearly every country in the world accepted the 30 articles that comprise the UDHR and integrated them into their bodies of law. The UDHR, which some have described as the Magna Carta of the modern age, remains a powerful instrument today, and its impact continues to be felt all over the world.
During the month of June, the Harris County Law Library is commemorating Magna Carta. Don’t miss our digital exhibit and the exhibit currently on display in the Law Library's lobby, where you can explore the origins of this historically significant document and its impact on both the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as its influence on the rule of law in Texas.
To complement our Magna Carta exhibits, the Law Library has adopted a theme, Constitutional Law Resource Month, which will feature items from our collection, including treatises, reference works, CLE course materials, form books, and other practitioner tools that may be useful in conducting constitutional law research.
The Law Library will also feature a small display of commentaries and related examples of case law that demonstrate the connections between Magna Carta and American law. All of these resources and exhibits will be featured until the end of June. Don’t miss your chance to see them, and please feel free to ask the Law Library staff any questions about the materials you discover.