Friday, September 23, 2022

Dunn on the First All-Female Appellate Decision

Jeffrey D. Dunn has published The Legacy of Johnson v. Darr: The 1925 Decision of the All-Woman
Texas Supreme Court
in the St. Mary's Law Journal 53 (2022): 409-444:

The Texas Supreme Court case of Johnson v. Darr, the first case decided in any state by an all-woman appellate court, was a singular event in American legal history. On January 9, 1925, three women lawyers appointed by Texas Governor Pat Neff met at the state capitol in Austin to issue rulings solely on one case involving conflicting claims to several residential properties in El Paso. The special court was appointed because the three elected justices recused themselves over a conflict of interest involving one of the litigants, a popular fraternal organization called Woodmen of the World. The special court granted the writ of error to enable the appeal, heard oral arguments on Januay30, issued its decision on May 23, and disbanded on June 12 after denying a motion for rehearing. It would take fifty-seventy years, 1982, before another woman was appointed to the court, and ten more years, 1992, before the first woman was elected to the court. After 1925, and particularly after women became ubiquitous as attorneys during and after the 1980s, Johnson v. Darr was noted as a curious oddity and celebrated milestone in the history of women in the legal profession.
The following Article was presented at the annual meeting of the Texas State Historical Association on March 6, 2004, in Austin, Texas. The paper's objective is to examine the circumstances that led to Governor Neff's appointments, his motivations in appointing the women, and the legal legacy of the substantive result of the decision. The paper has been cited many times and with this publication is now more easily accessible. Except for a few edits, corrections, and the addition of new case citations in the appendix, the paper is published as it was presented in 2004.
-Dan Ernst