THE LONE STAR AND THE HIGH COURT
U.S. SUPREME COURT CASES FROM TEXAS
Over the past decade websites such as www.scotusblog.com, www.streetlaw.org and www.oyez.org have played an increasingly important role in disseminating information about U.S. Supreme Court decisions including Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) and Bostock v. Clayton County (2020). Indeed, online sources have essentially outpaced conventional news outlets, offering readers a more comprehensive analysis than television or daily newspapers can provide. Despite this explosion of on-line material, public understanding of the Supreme Court remains at an all-time low. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center poll, only 34% of respondents could identify John Roberts as the Chief Justice and 49% could not name Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic appointed to the High Court. A Columbia Law School poll further reveals that a majority of Americans know neither the basic issues of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision (1973) nor the fact that it originated in Dallas, Texas.
This latter statistic is of particular importance to Texans. Over the past century, the Lone Star State has served as the point of origin for more landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases than any other state. Equally striking is the way in which such cases have stood at the forefront of national political change, whether the controversy involved elimination of the all-white political primary (Smith v. Allwright, 1944), desegregation of higher education (Sweatt v. Painter, 1950), abortion rights (Roe v. Wade, 1973), flag burning (Texas v. Johnson, 1989), gun control (U.S. v. Lopez, 1995), gay rights (Lawrence v. Texas, 2003), separation of church and state (Van Orden v. Perry, 2005), or affirmative action (Fisher v. University of Texas, 2013).
Texas has long represented a battleground for hotly contested constitutional issues for several reasons. As one of the most populous and multicultural states, Texas has served as ground zero for issues like immigration, civil rights, and social justice that affect the nation as a whole. Furthermore, as the inheritors of Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American legal traditions plus their own legacy of revolution, Texans have long been vocal in their defense of “rights” and “liberties.” Texas’s unique location at the intersection of the Solid South and the far west has likewise made it an ideal site of legal contestation for ordinary Texans hoping to effect national constitutional change or Supreme Court justices handing down precedents involving multiple regions of the country.
The LONE STAR AND HIGH COURT website presents more than merely a recitation of Texas or U.S. Supreme Court history. It reveals the ways in which grassroots activists and justices at the national level interacted together to bring about lasting change for millions of Americans. Above all, this project depicts Supreme Court cases such as Roe v. Wade and Texas v. Johnson as critical public debates in both the federal courts and the court of public opinion. The site shows how ordinary Texans — teenagers, businesspeople, union activists, prisoners, and civil rights demonstrators — took principled stands on the important political and social crises faced by their respective generations.
"Texas is free to conduct her elections and limit her electorate as she may deem wise, save only as her action may be affected by the prohibitions of the United States Constitution.... The Fourteenth Amendment forbids a state from making or enforcing any law which abridges the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States and the Fifteenth Amendment specifically interdicts any denial or abridgement by a state of the right of citizens to vote on account of color." (Smith v. Allwright, 1944)
Dr. Jeffrey L Littlejohn
Sam Houston State University
Dr. Thomas H. Cox
Sam Houston State University