Celebrating San Jacinto Day

Today is San Jacinto Day! We, along with many others across the state, turn our thoughts to the final battle of the Texas Revolution that took place on April 21, 1836. The victory paved the way for a new government to form under the 1836 Constitution of the Republic of Texas and the rest is legal research.

To celebrate the day, we're offering a #shelfie opportunity the week of April 23 at the Harris County Law Library. Grab your phone and take a #shelfie in front of our monographic replica of the San Jacinto Monument. Be sure to post it to Twitter and tag it #SanJacintheStacks!

Fighting Hate Crimes and Bias in Texas - a free CLE event

The fight against violence and bigotry is of perennial concern in American Jurisprudence. Ten Dollars to Hate by Patricia Bernstein brings the story of one such fight from the 1920s into our modern consciousness. The book tells the story of Texas prosecutor Dan Moody, whose efforts against the Ku Klux Klan led to the nation's first successful prosecution of the well-connected group for their violent assaults and criminal acts. Moody's lead was followed around the country, loosening the supremacist group's grip on American politics.

Ms. Bernstein will present her research alongside a panel of attorneys who fight hate and bias everyday at a free CLE event on September 8. The event is cosponsored by the Offices of Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney, and Kim Ogg, Harris County District Attorney, and is accredited for both CLE (3.0 hours in Texas; 0.5 hour ethics) and TCOLE credit. Register today at www.harriscountylawlibrary.org/tendollars.

On this Day: Magna Carta and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Magna Carta, 1297: Widely viewed as one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy. On display in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC.

On June 15, 1215, the Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede meadow in Surrey, England. View our digital exhibit to learn more about this historic document and its role in shaping our democracy.

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. 

Equal Protection and Transgender Rights

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7369441@N08/8594644828

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7369441@N08/8594644828

Throughout the month of May, we have highlighted civil rights law resources from the Law Library's print collection. Titles currently on display include Transgender Persons and the Law, Section 1983 Litigation in a NutshellAmericans With Disabilities Practice and Compliance Manual, and Sexual Orientation and the Law. We have also been celebrating the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This cornerstone of landmark civil rights legislation has been a source of inspiration for equal justice advocates for nearly 150 years.

The 14th Amendment has been invoked in a great number of historic cases including the trial of Susan B. Anthony (1873), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Loving v. Virginia (1967), Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), and as recently as yesterday, Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, a case in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals with important implications for transgender rights.

In Whitaker, a three-judge panel cited the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, arguing that anti-discrimination laws apply to transgender students. They upheld the lower court's injunction, stating that sex discrimination based on gender identity is unconstitutional. This decision, the first ruling of its kind by a court at the federal level, will protect the individual student at the heart of the case and could extend to transgender students as a class. By invoking federal civil rights laws, this ruling has the potential to ensure equality for all transgender people and prohibit discrimination in education, housing, and employment. 




A Look Back at Brown v. Board of Education on the 63rd Anniversary

On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that racial segregation was unconstitutional and that permitting "separate but equal" treatment for black students in public schools was a violation of federal civil rights laws. 

"We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

This year's Law Day theme is The 14th Amendment: Transforming American Democracy, so today, on the 63rd anniversary of this historic case, it's appropriate to remember Brown v Board of Education and the impact it's had on shaping the civil rights effort from 1954 to this day.

Looking Back - Judge Roy Bean

Throughout its history, Texas has had its share of larger-than-life figures from outlaws Bonnie & Clyde to war hero Audie Murphy to R & B superstar Beyoncé. Perhaps, one of the more colorful characters to arrive and take up residence in the Lone Star State was Judge Roy Bean, who died on this day in 1903. As we celebrate Texas History Month, let’s take a look back at the life of one of the more interesting and picturesque figures in American jurisprudence.

Born in Kentucky, Judge Roy Bean found himself in Texas after encountering some trouble (of his own making) in both Mexico and California. He opened a saloon, The Jersey Lilly, as an homage to the beautiful actress Lillie Langtry with whom he was quite smitten, and founded the village of Langtry, described as “a one-street frontier town nestl[ed] in a deep canyon of the Rio Grande where the railroad crosses the big river.” (See Orange Daily Tribune 5/29/1903). It was in this saloon, that Judge Bean, the self-proclaimed “law West of the Pecos,” meted out his own version of justice in the Old West based upon his notions of fairness and the law. No one is quite certain as to how he became vested with the authority of a justice of the peace, but nevertheless, he held court while seated “on the billiard table with a copy of the statutes of 1879 (the only one in his possession).” (See The Southern Mercury 6/30/1904). (To see a copy of the Laws of Texas, visit the Law Library). Of course, it's not surprising that his decisions were always final with no room for an appeal.

Judge Roy Bean Saloon & Justice Court, Langtry, Val Verde County, TX

Photo from the Library of Congress Photo, Print, & Drawing Collection

Judge Roy Bean is best remembered for his peculiar rulings that really did seem, in retrospect, to smack of common sense.  In one case, two men came to the court with their wives and expressed a desire to be divorced, adding that they wished to marry the other man’s wife. The judge granted the requested divorces and then proceeded to marry each man to the other’s wife. (See The Sunday Gazetteer 9/14/1902). In one of his most noted cases, Judge Bean held an inquest over the remains of a man found under the bridge that crossed the Pecos River. In the man’s pockets, the judge found a revolver and $50. The judge then fined the corpse $50 for carrying a concealed weapon. This ruling may still be the only one on record where a dead man was fined for carrying a concealed weapon. (See The Southern Mercury 6/30/1904). The judge was also known for handing out punishments whereby the offender was required to pay his fine by purchasing beer, typically two dozen bottles, at The Jersey Lilly and treating the crowd. (See Orange Daily Tribune 5/29/1903). Perhaps, not the most ethical of punishments, but it is certainly one of the most memorable and popular with the townsfolk.

The exploits and rulings of Judge Roy Bean have been documented in newspapers throughout the State of Texas. If you are interested in learning more about the judge and reading some articles about him, visit The Portal to Texas History, a wonderful website maintained by the University of North Texas Libraries that features some rare and historical primary source materials. Also visit the site of the Texas State Historical Association and The Handbook of Texas, a digital gateway to all things Texas.

If pop culture is more to your liking, sit down and watch The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, a 1972 film starring Paul Newman as the judge and Ava Gardner as Lilly Langtry, the object of his affection. There was also a short-lived television series, Judge Roy Bean, that ran for one season from 1956-57, and a French film, entitled Le Juge, which was released in 1971.

For good or for bad, Judge Roy Bean has certainly carved himself a place in Texas history. As for the question of whether he is a leading figure in American jurisprudence, you be the judge.