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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howell Heflin, July 9, 1974. Interview A-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

New generation of Alabama judges more willing to rule progressively

A new generation of young judges take the bench believing that they have an obligation to the state of Alabama, Heflin believes. He seems to be saying that judges are more willing to rule proactively on civil rights, and certainly believes that courts are beginning to protect human rights, rather than property rights. These new judges are eroding the differences between the judiciary in the South and elsewhere.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Howell Heflin, July 9, 1974. Interview A-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK BASS:
You do see then a trend toward a more activist state court system?
HOWELL HEFLIN:
I do.
JACK BASS:
Nationally?
HOWELL HEFLIN:
Nationally. In every state. It's beginning to crop up.
JACK BASS:
Is this sort of an after effect of the Warren court?
HOWELL HEFLIN:
It's a pendulum. I think as basically the state court systems reacted against Warren court. . . . I came on this court. . . . I mean I came up as a lawyer trying to find out what the law was. You followed decisions of the Supreme Court. I came into a conference here and the first " any damn way we can get around the Supreme Court on this decision let's do it. I ain't following the Supreme Court of the United States on anything." That type of attitude. Now it's changing. You're getting a younger group that's coming in. And I think it's part of the pendulum. It was a reaction against the Warren court. And this is true in Montana, true in Kansas, true in Michigan and New Jersey and all state. But now, I think, that group is goingand you're getting a younger-maybe younger is in the fifties-coming on with an idea that their obligations and responsibilities that they owe to the state and owe to the people and they ought to endeavor to try to do something about it. I've been here three and a half years, but in January, with the new court coming in, there will only have been two people who have been here longer. In other words there will be six members of the court which will-five members of the court which will have been added since I've come on. And I think in another five or six years this will take place in the other states.
JACK BASS:
I recall reading in a biography of Warren that he said he viewed the Supreme Court of the United States as being more of a court of justice than a court of law. Is this philosophy permeating down to. . . coming into the state court system?
HOWELL HEFLIN:
Not as much so, of course, as the Warren did. It's moving but I think some of it, to some moderate degree, is coming down. You've got such things as. . . we'll say in consumer fields. this issue has been in state courts. Largely you have the old common law concepts of jurisprudence. You follow the various things. And I think more people are more people minded, that people have more rights, injured people have more rights than the concepts of what you .[unclear] I can tell already the trend in this court to effect. . . . Well, they're more human rights versus property rights. I think the human rights philosophy is creeping in in moderate degrees now in state courts where it was a firm, hardfast feeling before that we protect property rights over human rights. I think now there is a feeling that human rights should be looked upon more so than property rights.
JACK BASS:
Do you perceive. . . . You know, when you go to judicial conferences and so forth, do you perceive any difference in attitudes among state judges from the South as opposed to those from the non-South on these issues?
HOWELL HEFLIN:
I think it's more largely new people coming in. The older judges from the South possess the same judicial restraint-states rights approach. . . . The one in Kansas that had that approach, the older one, and Oregon, Washington, Indiana. . . . I'd say the most conservative chief justice on states rights and federal and state relationships today is the chief justice in Indiana. More so than the old chief justice Bobbitt or Suzy Sharp or Joe Mulston in South Carolina-who have been there for years-and that type of people. I think they are the same all over. I think the change is taking place all over regardless whether it be South, North, East or West.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Do you detect any regional differences between southern court systems and court systems outside the South?
HOWELL HEFLIN:
Well, basically there have been in the racial matters. I think there's more. . . well, the older groups. . . . I think as the younger group comes along that that is lesser.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Any other differences?
HOWELL HEFLIN:
Well, in the other state systems, you find pretty well the same stereotypes that you find in the South. You find in other places. . . perhaps may be the South maybe is a little more. . . . But there are a lot of. . . . I look around in Georgia, look around in Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and I see opinions coming out that are not really different from what's coming out of Oregon, coming out of New Jersey, coming out of Maine, coming out of Colorado. I think the philosophy is not altogether uniform, but there's a striking uniformity between them.