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James Patterson Alexander (1883-1948)

Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1941-1948

Born April 21, 1883 to pioneer parents and raised on a farm near Moody in McLennan County, James P. Alexander attended public schools in Moody and worked on his family's farm until he left home to attend Baylor University in 1901. He became a teacher in order to pay for law school at The University of Texas, where he earned his LL.B. degree in 1908.

Alexander practiced law in McGregor, Texas, and in Waco until 1916 when he was elected county judge of McLennan County. During the four years he served in that position he reportedly made a practice of taking first-time juvenile offenders to his home as guests, befriending them and offering his guidance. In 1920 he was elected judge of the Nineteenth Judicial District Court at Waco and served one term before retiring from the post in 1924.

When Baylor University opened its law school in the fall of 1920, Alexander was hired as one of its two faculty members at the rank of associate professor. He remained on the faculty there for twenty-one years, where he was a beloved teacher and established the practice court as part of the curriculum. During his years at Baylor, "Judge Alex," as his students called him, also practiced law and served for ten years as associate justice of the Court of Civil Appeals for the Tenth Supreme Judicial District of Texas at Waco, to which he was elected in 1930. He held volunteer leadership positions in numerous legal associations and benevolent organizations, including many years as director of the State Bar of Texas. He was appointed to the Texas Civil Judicial Council in 1937, a post he held until his death. During this time the Texas Supreme Court was increased from three to nine members and was vested with full rule-making power.

Alexander remained interested in farming throughout his life, educated himself on the latest agricultural advancements, and engaged in beekeeping. He believed strongly in land ownership as a means to strengthening society and aided numerous people in achieving that goal by selling parcels of land with lenient financing, particularly during the Great Depression.

James P. Alexander was sworn in as the twentieth chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas on January 1, 1941. He authored more than 150 opinions during his tenure on the Court. He is also remembered for his work to simplify Texas rules of civil procedure and improve the administration of justice. Chief Justice Alexander died at his home in Austin at age sixty-four on January 1, 1948, seven years to the day after taking the oath of office.

Notable opinions

Friedman v. Am. Sur. Co., 151 S.W.2d 570 (Tex. 1941) (Alexander, C. J., dissenting, would hold Unemployment Compensation Act unconstitutional because if collected money is not State funds, then violates Constitution because the State cannot tax for private purposes or directly give public money to individuals).

Texas Constitution references -

Lower Colo. River Auth. v. Chem. Bank, 190 S.W.2d 48 (Tex. 1945) (Alexander, CJ., dissenting, would uphold tax continuation statute as not violating Texas Constitution because governmental industrial enterprise is not automatically exempt from taxes unless the legislature so decides).

Texas Constitution references -

Trapp v. Shell Oil, 198 S.W.2d 424 (Tex. 1946) (Alexander, CJ., dissenting, would deny as unconstitutional the grant of an exception drilling permit because the Legislature is not authorized to so delegate their authority and the grant denies a constitutional right to trial).

Texas Constitution references -

Rules of Civil Procedure: Found 25 cases where Alexander wrote on Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.


Baylor Law: A Rich and Proud Tradition (visited June 8, 2006).

In Memoriam,146 Texas reports 632 (1948).

Weinberger, A. L. Alexander, James Patterson (1883-1948), Handbook of Texas Online (May 25, 2006).

Extended bibliography

Speer, Ocie. Texas Jurists 406 (Austin, Texas: the author, 1936).

Dedication, 1 Baylor Law Review 1.

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 60, page 18

Additional information available in Texas Bar Journal as follow:
Volume 2, page 65
Volume 3, page 141
Volume 4, page 8
Volume 5, page 43
Volume 6, page 90
Volume 7, page 240
Volume 8, page 119
Volume 11, page 197
Volume 24, page 1049

Hale, Joseph W. In Memoriam, 26 Texas Law Review 383.

Morehead, Richard M. Chief Justice Alexander of Texas High Court Dies, Dallas Morning News, January 2, 1948.

Bench Loses Chief, Dallas Morning News, January 3, 1948.

In Memoriam,146 Texas reports 632 (1948).