The Judge John R. Brown Papers

The O’Quinn Law Library at the University of Houston Law Center received a donation of the papers of Judge John R. Brown  in 1993. These papers were indexed by the library and archived to allow access by scholars. In July 2001, Tropical Storm Allison inundated the space in which the papers were stored.  Of the 306 boxes of papers in storage, 102 boxes were rescued and preserved. These boxes are now in storage at the Law Center. Scholars wishing to determine if the papers contain materials of interest to their research should contact the O’Quinn Law Library. If the papers held by the library contain relevant documents we will provide copies of the originals for the cost of copying.


Autobiographical Information

This is a reproduction of a memorandum written by Judge Brown.

Note:The first several pages of this autobiography document Judge Brown's career. The last pages discuss topics ranging from music to court opinions; if you wish to skip to these sections, click on the appropriate heading below.

[Court Opinions and Field of the Law] [Hobbies] [Music, Songs and the Like] [Political Activities]
[Reading and Literature] [Religious Activities] [Special Interests and Activities]


After graduating from Nebraska, I went to Michigan not knowing what else to do. There I got a Law Degree with a Juris Doctor Degree. I was Order of the Coif and Law Review. The depression was then on, and there was no point in returning to Nebraska. I had heard a little about Texas, but not much. They were modest then, but two of my classmates at Michigan talked about coming this way, so I set out too. Unknown, without friends, acquaintances, introductions, or otherwise, I canvassed the lawyers in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Galveston. I ended up with a few offers and went with the law firm of Royston & Rayzor where, for one raised in the dry area of Nebraska 20 miles from a river and no place to swim, I ended up as an admiralty and maritime lawyer. When I left that firm to go on the bench in 1955, I was the senior active partner.

My war experiences were intense and varied and very interesting. After going into the Air Force and Officers Training at Miami, along with all of the other cheap tenants of Miami Beach expensive hotels, I was sent to Australia where for a day or two I was in the Judge Advocate's Department, then found my place in transportation. I ended up as a Port Commander in Cebu and Tacloban, Philippine Islands after duty in Sydney, Australia, Brisbane, Australia, and Hollandia, New Guinea, and Manilla, P.I. I am one of the few who is not eligible to wear the American service ribbon since it calls for six months duty in the Western Hemisphere. Out of nearly four years overseas, I had too little of that.

After return from the war, I became intensely interested in my law practice and in politics. In 1948 and again in 1952 I was active in Republican politics since the Party was becoming very much alive at that time. I was one of many thrown out on their ear in the Mineral Wells Convention, later referred to on nationwide TV and the Press as the "Texas Steal" and after some difficulty we were finally seated as the Eisenhower delegates in the Chicago Convention where he was nominated and subsequently was elected. I was County Chairman and State Committeeman, and found a good deal of excitement in this activity.

Trying to prove that politicians or those interested in politics can be honest, I have also had a keen interest in church work at the First Presbyterian Church where I am now an Elder, have been a Deacon and was Superintendent of the Sunday School after a considerable experience in teaching.

As a member of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, I am on one of the few remaining real circuit courts in the sense of travel. We sit from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, and that exposes me to a lot of people, golf courses, interesting conversations, and many other activities. I have to confess that I like to make speeches and seldom turn them down.

In 1959 I was one of seven or eight to receive honorary Doctors Degrees at the University of Michigan in celebration of its Centennial of the Law School. I have written a good deal and the attached list is of published articles. Amongst other things I have become interested in data computers and the law, also trying to simplify presentation of complex patent claims and patent problems.

In addition to my return to Michigan for a degree, I was asked back to my old Alma Mater at Nebraska for the Honors Convocation where I made a speech, and as a result of a rather extended handshake showing the grip to a young Sigma Chi, who introduced me, got my picture on the Magazine of Sigma Chi.

Some of the more recent principal places where I have made speeches include:

  • Maritime Law Association of the United States, New York City, May 3, 1963
  • International Association of Insurance Counsel, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, July 4, 1961.
  • American College of Trial Lawyers, New Orleans, La., annual convention, March 27, 1961
  • Texas State Bar Annual Convention, San Antonio, Texas, July 1962.
  • Louisiana Judicial Conference, New Orleans, La., October 1962.
  • My interest in data computers is reflected by the attached "newspaper" and the accompanying explanatory note which describes what happened at the "Appreciation Dinner" given in my behalf by the lawyers of Texas at the State Bar Convention, San Antonio, July 1962.
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    Music, Songs and the Like: You asked about school songs, favorite songs, etc. I graduated from the University of Michigan Law School, but never got the feeling of an undergraduate. I went to the University of Nebraska and got an BA degree there and still like to hear their song, but it really does not send me since I have been so thoroughly been indoctrinated now as a Texan. I love singing and I love music however. One of my favorite songs of a popular kind is "Oh Sweet Mystery of Life." It is pretty, and I suppose of great philosophic content, but I am endeared to it because I sang it during my undergraduate days and was, I think, thrown out of one or two fraternity housed for singing it too late and too loud. Another real favorite of mine is Saint Joe's Infirmary." The modern version of that simply isn't very good. I hope someone can run it down for you and get all of the words (they are really not very bad, although the subject is hardly a creature one would lift up as a model of virtue). In a more serious vein, I really love symphony music. I suppose my favorite composers are Brahms, Beethoven, and Wagner. I have only one real sensitiveness on this. For the most part, no composer still living can write music that I like. Instinctively I look on the program notes to see if he is dead. Modernists with all of their cacophony leave me cold. Like my own speaking voice, I tend toward a lot of noise, hence the bombastic symphonies are preferred over delicate pastoral poems of Debussy or the like. I am found of grand operas and of all the voices I prefer the basso-baritone I suppose, although I am a sucker for a beautiful soprano or contralto. My favorite opera is Donezetti's Lucia, although Tosca, LaBohemme, Faust, Madam Butterfly run a close second. Of the lighter musicals, I have never forgotten my impressions as a young college boy of hearing Showboat on the New York stage with its original cast, and of the later new, I cannot forget Pinza in South Pacific and some of the songs so well sung from Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun, Inside U.S.A., Call Me Madam and the like.

    If you are looking for some potentially good humorous singing, I suggest you contact Gus Hodges or Page Keeton at Texas Law School and get the lyrics (with the tune indicated) for a song supposably written by Dean Prosser (of California) on "The Majority Rule, The Minority Rule, and The Texas Rule." It is a gem and very singable (and clean and presentable).


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    Reading and Literature: I have to confess my cultural inadequacy. I have no deep convictions about authors. Perhaps I read too many law briefs and court opinions. My reading habits are confined largely to good periodicals, such as Atlantic and Harper's and an effort to keep abreast of the daily papers and weekly news magazines. I am not, frankly, a Readers Digest man. Perhaps this is because I never try to compress anything I want to say--I say it fully and expansively and on ad nauseam. Consequently, in fairness to the author, I don not want to see him compressed either. I read avidly. I read everything. I am a bore to my family most of the time because I always have my nose in some piece of literature. I am so curious about so many things, I do not often read whole books which is to my misfortune. I had a stint of about three or four years with the Great Books course both as a participant and as a leader and saw the value of the old masters, although I am not a Hutchins man in thinking that the world's problems can be solved by Homer. Greek mythology I enjoy, but I have trouble keeping all the Gods straight. I marvel at the imagination revealed in these legends and the intricate structure that keeps them together. I don't read the Bible as much as I should, I suppose no one does, but I find religious literature stimulating and interesting. I read regularly church publications and periodicals, and theology interests me but it mystifies me at times. (I think about church now and should have mentioned under "singing" that I love to sing very loudly in church, but not in an organized choir, I do better as a disorganized parishioner in the pews). Of course I not only read a lot, I have to write a lot. The opinions I write as a Judge will be covered separately. I have written a number of articles, one being "Free Will in The Frontiers of Federalism" as the address at the Centennial of the University of Michigan Law School (where I was awarded an honorary doctor's degree before they had a chance to read my script), and more recently one on electronic data computers, "Electronic Brains and the Legal Mind: Computing the Data Computer's Collision with Law in the Yale Law Journal as an abuse of the memory of the great Judge Cardozo. I have also written a couple of articles in the Insurance Counsel Journal: "A Federal Judge Looks at Liability Insurance," October 1961; "Loading and Unloading the Conflict Between Fortuitous Adversaries," April 1962.
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    Special Interests and Activities: I suppose the first thing is that I like to talk. I talk a lot. I never quit talking. At least my mother says she recalls that I was silent for the first two weeks of my life. I have what Judge Hutcheson has attributed to me as "the hoof and mouth disease," that is I travel and talk. I have now, to the misfortune of my listeners perhaps, abandoned most serious talks on the approach that my hearers already know more than they are being paid about. Consequently, my speeches bear different titles, but the content is nearly always the same to the great sorrow of those who listen. One of the fascination about this speech-making circuit is the opportunity for making many new friend in new circles. This is a real interest of mine. I do love people, and I find it easy to meet them and talk with them. One fellow said once I had a sure technique: I had the capacity to get other to talk about themselves very quickly.

    I feel deeply that Appellate Judges become hermits unless they fight to stay alive. I discipline myself to increase my contacts with the Bar, and hence my work in Bar Association activities is greater now than it was while I was a practitioner. I am especially interested in young lawyers, and this is reflected in the close intimate association I have with my law clerks.

    Since acquiring that enviable state of a Judge with a lot of "leisure" time on my hands, I have developed a number of pen pals across the country, largely due to the patient, competent help of my long-suffering secretary. This includes two acute areas of interest, one on data computers and the law, and the other on improving the communications in the field of patent law. In the patent field, this has led even to an improvement in the internal operation of the writing and printing of patent claims in the final patent as issued. On this I occasionally use footnotes to store and voice interesting data having some relevance perhaps to the case.


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    Hobbies: I used to cut a neat board with a saw and could pound a nail well. Duty as an officer kept me from many such menial task, and I came home from the War to find my wife repairing the electric circuits, having the lawn mowed, and the like. I have never taken them up again, and I kind of miss it. My interest now are devoted almost entirely to golf and to fishing and hunting of doves. None of these I do well. Golf I suffer from a 14 handicap made honest by data computers. Previously when hand calculated, it was a 16. I play at Houston Country Club where I regularly supplement the income of lawyers who are trying to demonstrate they do not want to embarrass me by making me dependent upon their handout. I know every golf-playing advocate throughout the Fifth Circuit, and the delay in getting out opinions especially in the fall is due to the beautiful golf courses in Atlanta, Georgia, Montgomery, Alabama, and Fort Worth, Texas. All of this is pretty recent. I played golf thinking that is was for my wife's sake for a number of years as a sort of a martyr. I then went to Highlands Country Club at Highland, North Carolina, and watched my wife take some lessons from a pro by the name of Carney. I finally got courage enough to take a lesson from him. He had me take a few practice swings and then announced, "Judge, there are a number of golf pros who would not want it known that you are their pupil!" I did come back and I have done better, and my form is good, but the results are not so steady. In fishing, I was exposed to a spinning rod by a tax lawyer in Arkansas where I went to make a Bar Associate speech. Since then I have been ruined by hooking a couple of good sized bass in the North Lano at Junction, Texas. Law summer while in Junction in August, Judge Elbert Tuttle, Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit, arranged to come through there to spend a day while we worked on some urgent administrative matters for the Court including Judge assignments. Word got out on the radio and the story was substantially this: "Junction, Texas, was the site of a very important meeting of two high ranking Judges of the United States. Chief Judge Elbert Tuttle of the Fifth Circuit and his associate Judge John R. Brown of Houston conferred at length on important matters relating to administrative problems of the Fifth Circuit, a Court just below the United States Supreme Court. Judge Brown also caught a three-pound bass on the Mudge Ranch yesterday. I think the reporter was correct in relative evaluation.

    I hunt doves and my wife exposed me to this as did my father- in-law, George Murray of San Antonio. My son, John, Jr. is excellent, but is extravagant until now when he starts buying his own ammunition. None of these birds are "free." Each one represents an investment of about $2.75 as I will generally use up three boxes of shells in the afternoon. I love to shoot doves; I love to try to shoot doves. I love to eat doves.


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    Religious Activities: As my sketch shows, I am along time Presbyterian (southern now but born a northern one, whatever the difference is). I have taught Sunday School, a college age class, have been Superintendent of the Sunday School for a period of two years after two years as an assistant, and I have run the range from Deacon to Elder which I now serve at First Presbyterian Church in Houston.
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    Political Activities: I voted for Landon for President in 1936. I am a Republican. I got more or less active along about 1948 and this increased between 1950-1952 resulting in intense activity in the campaigns in 1952. I was one of those in the Texas steal which, perhaps, had so much to do with the nomination of President Eisenhower, and a such was thrown out of conventions and got in and out of them including finally the National Convention in Chicago. Thereafter I was County Chairman for Harris County and later for awhile a State Committeeman. I carry a watch which I value highly which bears the inscription "To John R. Brown from his Harris County Republican Friends." I have found that I can leave it on a platform occupied by Democratic office holders.
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    Court Opinions and Field of the Law: The keynote of what I hope is my philosophy is that I would be looked upon as a lawyers' Judge: that is, the courts cannot function without vigorous effective advocacy by lawyers, but too often Judges, and especially Appellate Judges, forget that as they run off to decide a case "solo" without first subjecting the case, the text, the idea, or the fact to the close scrutiny of a contentious advocacy. 
    Archivist's note: The memorandum is not dated and was not received with the rest of the collection. We believe that the memorandum was written in the early 1960's (1963).