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Texas Supreme Court scope and content

Scope and Contents of the Texas Supreme Court records

The Texas Supreme Court has final appellate jurisdiction in most civil and juvenile cases. It also has the authority to conduct proceedings for the removal or involuntary retirement of state judges; supervises State Bar operations; promulgates rules and regulations for the discipline, supervision, and disbarment of lawyers; and has supervisory and administrative control over the judicial branch. The records consist of case files, applications, opinions, dockets, indexes, registers, and minutes covering the period 1840-2004. Also present are the records of the Texas Commission of Appeals, consisting of opinions, dockets, and minutes, dating 1879-1892, 1918-1943. The records document the actions of the justices but do not cover the more routine or administrative functions of the clerk or other aspects of the functioning of the judicial system.

The court met in Austin through the year 1850. Beginning in 1851, the court held annual three month terms in the cities of Galveston, Austin, and Tyler. Beginning in the 1850s, the Galveston term ran January through March; the Tyler term, April through June; and the Austin term October through December. By the mid 1870s, the Austin term was changed to April through June and the Tyler term to October through December. Beginning in 1879, some cases were referred to the Commission of Appeals. Results of these actions can be found in the minutes and opinions of these early Supreme Court records, and in the records of the commission.

During the “traveling” or “circuit” court period (1840-1892), the court enacted several numbering systems. A new numbering system was begun by the court in January 1841, causing a duplication of numbers with cases filed prior to that date. When the court began to travel between Austin, Galveston, and Tyler, the clerk at each of the court sites assigned their own case numbers, causing further duplication. The court generally maintained separate records for each geographical term. In some cases, minutes and opinions were recorded for more than one of the terms, often for multiple year periods, in the same volume. Dockets, minutes, and opinions in the early 1870s are present for Austin, but not for Tyler and Galveston. It is likely the court met only in Austin for the approximate period of 1871-1873. In 1944, all cases created during the circuit court period were renumbered with an M number and a direct and reverse index was compiled on index cards.

A new numbering system was implemented in late 1892. Applications for writs of error became the most common way for a case to come to the Supreme Court. Each application was assigned an application number and can be found in the application dockets. Successful applications became cases and were assigned a new number, called a cause number, while unsuccessful applications simply retained their application number. This created two separate filing systems: case files arranged by cause number and applications filed by application number. Certain causes, particularly certified questions, habeas corpus, mandamus, and quo warranto cases, will not appear in the application dockets. Beginning in 1918, many of the cases before the Supreme Court were referred to the Commission of Appeals. Such referrals and results (opinions, etc.) are detailed in the dockets and the minutes of the commission, and opinions of the commission are listed in the opinion books. Cases referred to the Commission of Appeals may be cited with a hyphenated case number, with the second part of the number being the cause number assigned by the Supreme Court.

Beginning in 1944, a new universal numbering and filing system began. The separate application numbering system used since 1892 was abandoned. All applications were assigned cause numbers, whether or not the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The new numbering system began by assigning cause numbers with a letter prefix, starting with A-1 in January 1944. In 1994, a new numbering system began based on two digit date prefixes, starting with 94-1. Dockets and a direct and reverse card index exist for a portion of these cases.

The case files are the most voluminous series in the records. Case files presently held by the Texas State Archives are the M case files (1840-1892), No prefix case files (1892-1943), A case files (1944-1966), B case files (1967-1980), C case files (1981-1990), D case files (1991-1993), and 94 through 04 case files (1994-2004). As of 2017, the 05 and later series are held by the Supreme Court.

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