Changes in Appellate Judges and Practice During the Last 50 Years

Vol. 53 No. 3

Roger D. Townsend is a partner in the Houston office of Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend LLP. He is a member of the Council of Appellate Lawyers and the immediate past president of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers.

Fifty years ago, things were very different. We’re talking about 1964. Can you remember? The Warren Commission had not yet issued its controversial report on President Kennedy’s assassination. Vietnam was just starting to enter the public consciousness. The civil rights movement was under way but was just gaining congressional support. LBJ’s Great Society was being conceived. Gunsmoke and Bonanza were two of the most popular television programs. America was still booming economically, but cities were so much smaller than today. Even if they lived in an urban area, most Americans still had close relatives living in rural areas. The interstate highway system was far from complete. Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax were the major sports heroes, along with Jim Brown and Bill Russell. Cassius Clay had just defeated Sonny Liston to become, as Muhammad Ali, “The Greatest.” Astronaut John Glenn had recently orbited the earth. China was about to embark on its Cultural Revolution. The Beatles had just swept America. Gasoline cost about 25 cents per gallon. I won’t even mention computers.

In light of the societal and technological changes since 1964, it is not surprising that appellate advocacy and judging are not what they used to be. Fifty years ago, appellate caseloads were smaller and there were fewer complex cases. There were fewer statutes; fewer criminal cases; fewer regulatory proceedings; and fewer lawyers, judges, and court staff. There were very, very few appellate specialists.

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