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Public Statements

2003 Investiture Speech

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Sometime in the mid 1850's a district judge from McLennan County, Texas ruled that a free man, even a free black man could not be bound by contract to sell himself into slavery. That was a fairly remarkable holding in the context of those times. That ruling was eventually reviewed and affirmed by the Supreme Court of Texas. The court's opinion is contained in this volume of the Texas Reports.

The same judge who ruled that the slave contract was void was a slave owner himself. His slave named Shedrick Willis was my great, great, great grandfather. Now much has been written about the exquisite irony that now almost 140 years later Willis' descendant will occupy a seat on the highest civil court in the State of Texas. But for me this coincidence of history is much more than ironic. These two men, Shedrick Willis and Judge Nicolas William Battle mark not only the intersection in this country between slavery and freedom, but between the rule of law and anarchy.

You see, Judge Battle, before the war was a fervent state's rights democrat. Indeed, he left the bench during the Civil War to fight for his beliefs. While history has shown that the period immediately following the Civil War was marred by violence in those jurisdictions where public officials disregarded the law and tolerated oppression of former slaves, Judge Battle would have none of that.

Newly appointed again to the District Court this time by Governor Coke, Judge Battle fought against any combinations that would disregard the law. It was written about Judge Battle during this time that he had come to accept the Constitution as it is and its expositions by the Supreme Court of the United States as authoritative and final. Any other theory is in Judge Battle's opinion a defiance of law, a standing menace to authority, and its logical results revolution. So Judge Battle respected the law and enforced it regardless of any public sentiment to the contrary.

And then there was Shedrick Willis, a newly freed slave living in a county where some were openly advocating his oppression. Yet, somehow this man, a blacksmith by trade, rose above his previous state of absolute servitude to become a leader in the community. He served on the Waco City Council for two terms after the Civil War. Now in these two men do we not have perfect examples of the promise of America that we be judged by those willing to strictly abide by the law even if it conflicts with public opinion or personal predilection, and that we each no matter what our prior circumstance have the opportunity in this great land to excel in business or to become leaders in the community.

Adherence to the law even in the face of combinations that would outrage the law is a conviction I will take with me as Judge Battle did to the bench. A will to overcome the most dire circumstances imaginable, I will lean on Shedrick Willis' example in that regard when confronted with seemingly hopeless situations. The lives and lessons of these two long dead men should inspire us all.

Progress like this does not happen without leadership. Shedrick Willis would probably never have had the opportunity to serve on the city council if he lacked the support of men and women of influence in his community. Well can you guess who it was that came to Willis' aid? It was Judge Nicolas W. Battle. Like Willis, I would never have had the chance to serve had it not been for my family and friends. To my parents, Bill and Joyce Jefferson who are with us today, I have been honored to be your son.

Judge Gonzales, I looked at your investiture tape and I saved the comments about my family and friends to the end, because like you, I think I get emotional when I talk about the people I love, and these are people I love.

Coach Wayne Williams is here from Anson Jones middle school. He was my coach back then, and I wasn't a star athlete like my brother, Lamont, who is here, was. But Coach Williams took me in and he's here somewhere. Coach Williams where are you?

I gave a talk last week at a law day celebration in San Antonio and the theme was Best Interest of the Children. And I used Coach Williams as an example. The law can't always protect children, but when you have someone like this, a teacher who will stand up and remember students years after they have been with them, that is in the best interest of the children, and our City of San Antonio was blessed to have you teach us.

Michael Parham. Everyone here has a best friend, and Michael Parham who is here from Seattle is my best friend from college. At every juncture, whether it be graduation from college, obviously we were there together at law school, best man in my wedding, when I was installed as President of the San Antonio Bar Association he was there with me and very important that he is here with me today. Michael Parham.

My brother, Lamont, played football at Rice University and then went on to the University of Texas School of Law. And when I was in my junior year at Michigan State University, I was talking to him about what I should do with my life, and he started talking to me about law school, and he was at the University of Texas School of Law, and persuaded me that that would be a good place to get my legal education. And he has been with me every step of the way. And I will tell you how things are connected. Without him leading the way, I would never have met at the University of Texas School of Law, Professor Charles Allen Wright. It is a profound disappointment to me that he couldn't be with us today. He passed away recently. But I know he is with us in spirit. He was a tremendous professor with the highest intellect of anyone I know. But what I came to find out was that he had compassion, and he was a real humanitarian, and I miss him dearly.

Lamont, also was the reason I started working at Groce, Locke & Hebdon, my first job. Although, he was no longer a shareholder of the firm, that is my connection to Attorney General John Cornyn, who has been a wonderful adviser to me every since, and someone I have respected. I respected his opinions when he was on the Supreme Court of Texas, and I respect his service to this state as Attorney General.

And there are other people here from Groce, Locke & Hebdon: Damon Ball who has also followed my career throughout the years, and has never hesitated to give me a telephone call and let me know what he thought about what progress is being made by me or my colleagues at my law firm.

There are so many other people to thank here, but let me leave in terms of my colleagues with the partners that I have left at my former firm: Tom Crofts; Sharon Callaway. They were in the appellate section of Groce, Locke & Hebdon when I first began, and in 1991 the three of us decided to go out and form our own law firm. Now this was to me an incredible thing that they would bring me along, not only to work with them in this new endeavor, but to be a shareholder. They actually put my name on the door. And I am so proud to have had the opportunity to work with them. They have taught me more than you will ever know. They are geniuses in my mind of the law, and I love them, and I love my old law firm.

Well last, but not least, I want to talk about my family. My beautiful wife, Rhonda. When we formed our new law firm it was within a few months of the time that I had proposed to Rhonda. And so if you can imagine, Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Lewis, the consternation all of you must have felt about me taking on this new enterprise, which may or may not work I had to confess to them, but Rhonda at that time and every day since has supported me and said, \"You can do it and you should do it. This is something that you can excel in and I will be here to help you.\" And she has been with me every step of the way. Rhonda, thank you.

And to my sons, William, Samuel and Michael who at the press conference had to leave and this afternoon had to leave. He gets a little fidgety sometime. William and Samuel and Michael, I love you very much.

And Judge Gonzales you said if you could be known as a good father, then you would have been doing your job. One part of a father's job is to be a role model for their children. One of the things I commit to them is to work as hard as I can at this job so they can be proud of me and continue to be proud of me. And that's the commitment I make to you and William.

It is a high honor to have this opportunity to serve the State of Texas, and Governor Perry I thank you for giving me this opportunity. To my colleagues, I look forward to working with you over the years and to reading your opinions Justice Owen from the Fifth Circuit.


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