The Rise of Judicial Management in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, 1955–2000

Steven Harmon Wilson

A look at the inner workings of one of the country's largest federal district courts


"Fills a huge gap in the literature of American constitutional and legal history."
—Timothy Huebner, Rhodes College

"Legal professionals and legal scholars will find much to appreciate in this first book-length study of a federal district court."
Dallas Morning News

"A welcome blend of history and social-science scholarship that sets a high standard for future studies of the lower federal courts."
—Kermit L. Hall, Utah State University

"The Rise of Judicial Management is a dense, richly detailed description of the competing interests at work in the Southern District of Texas during the last half of the twentieth century."
Justice System Journal

"An able contribution to the recent but growing literature on the role of lower federal (and state) courts in the creation and development of the law."

"A thoughtful and illuminating study . . . The book’s greatest strengths lie in its careful examination of individual litigations and in its overall picture of the district’s institutional evolution. . . .The Rise of Judicial Management is a thoughtful and instructive work that adds to our understanding of both the general role that the federal trial courts have played and the extent to which individual districts have their own distinctive characteristics and values as well as their own distinctive judges and dockets."
Law and History Review

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This is the first book-length study of a federal district court to analyze the revolutionary changes in its mission, structure, policies, and procedures over the past four decades. As Steven Harmon Wilson chronicles the court's attempts to keep pace with an expanding, diversifying caseload, he situates those efforts within the social, cultural, and political expectations that have prompted the increase in judicial seats from four in 1955 to the current nineteen.

Federal judges have progressed from being simply referees of legal disputes to managers of expanding courts, dockets, and staffs, says Wilson. The Southern District of Texas offers an especially instructive model by which to study this transformation. Not only does it contain a varied population of Hispanics, African Americans, and whites, but its jurisdiction includes an international border and some of the busiest seaports in the United States. Wilson identifies three areas of judicial management in which the shift has most clearly manifested itself. Through docket and case management judges have attempted to rationalize the flow of work through the litigation process. Lastly, and most controversially, judges have sought to bring "constitutionally flawed" institutions into compliance through "structural reform" rulings in areas such as housing, education, employment, and voting.

Wilson draws on sources ranging from judicial biography and oral-history interviews to case files, published opinions, and administrative memoranda. Blending legal history with social science, this important new study ponders the changing meaning of federal judgeship as it shows how judicial management has both helped and hindered the resolution of legal conflicts and the protection of civil rights.

Southern Legal Studies

Page count: 576 pp.
Trim size: 6.125 x 9.25


List price: $66.95

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Steven Harmon Wilson received his doctorate in history from Rice University.