I should confess a bias from most of my legal career happening in Austin. The practice of law takes place on another plane, something that came back to me every time I got assigned elsewhere. People come to Austin for the highest ranked law school in the state but then they don't want to leave....so they stay and bust the chops of anybody who does not read law until it gets in the books.


Photo from Pixabay

This morning brings another mass shooting, and all the politicians will be sending to the warehouses where they keep “thoughts” and “prayers” to lay in a fresh supply.

I predict that before the calendar rolls over to May, there will be another mass shooting, requiring a fresh application of thoughts and prayers to the wounds that have been open since at least 1966, when the University of Texas tower became a sniper perch.

Mass shootings have become as common nationally as tornados were regionally where I grew up. Whether mass shootings could be mitigated by law or were as random and dangerous as the tornados got no discussion that I recall. Semi-automatic rifles were as dangerous as chainsaws or nail guns and at least as common.

Pistols kill…


I don’t know much about dying, because I’m a bit inexperienced. So far, I’m unable to recommend the experience.

For all of my life, metaphor has been my sword, my shield, my refuge. Two metaphors about death have served me well so far and I am just an humble writer who uses the tools at hand.

Until I grew up and became a person wearing loan applications on my outer clothing, I would be concerned with two numbers from the used cars on offer: frequency of repair and cost of repair. If the seller asked my plans for the vehicle, I expressed my intent to “drive it until the wheels fall off.”

That expression sounded to my rural Oklahoma…


Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash

The first flurry of Joe Biden appointments to the federal courts has blown in, and those benches — largely reserved for white males in the 220 plus Trump appointments, are gaining a bit of color and more women. Some other federal judge stereotypes appear wobbly as well.

There is not only more chance for criminal law expertise, but for skills developed on both sides of the criminal docket. On the civil side, the baby judges will not come exclusively from what we call in the trade “rug lawyers” — poking fun at the deep pile carpet in their high rise tower offices. Some of us even expect to see appointees to the U.S. Courts of Appeals and later the SCOTUS who got their legal educations somewhere other than Harvard (21 alums and 17 grads in the history of the SCOTUS) or Yale (11 alums and 9 grads)…


"Anyone who helps other's children is a hero always."

And therein lies the tale of the time and hurt figuring that out cost me---but I am left happy to pay again. I'm guessing that people who set out to be teachers (as I did) are, consciously or not, signing up for a heroic quest.

Looking at ignorance as the enemy, the quest is easier to see and there appears to be less peril in the praxis. But when you show us this child caught up in the Nazi machine, peril is dialed up to a level off the charts.

"If…


Public Domain graphic from Clipart Library

In one of my recent posts, I uttered a remark that I said was common around criminal courts:

Nobody ever said criminals were smart.

That statement kicked up enough private comments that I’m glad I’m no longer an active judge and so I don’t have to worry about having to respond to a complaint at the Judicial Qualifications Commission. I did get a few of those in my day, but only one got past the front end screening.

Every judge I know has a short list of lawyers who are complete pains in the ass. …


Graphic by Public Domain Vectors

I get weary — and we should all get weary — of accusations that this or that politician wants to “tax and spend” or that it’s wrong for the government to manipulate the distribution of wealth.

Everything government does involves taxing and spending and those two acts, perforce, redistribute wealth. The pertinent questions are (1) Tax whom? and (2) Spend for what?

Redistribution of wealth? The two presidents since WWII who are consensus picks for the POTUS hall of fame — Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan — -probably redistributed more wealth than their peers, albeit in different directions. Other presidents present the same choice with smaller numbers: Robin Hood or reverse Robin Hood?

Robin Hood was a thief and famous for calling out the abuse of taxing and spending powers by the government of Prince John…


Photo licensed under Creative Commons

Like the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy nor Roman, the Yellow Rose of Texas was not a rose nor was it from Texas.

Reasonable people can differ on both “empire” and “yellow,” but the bright colored bloom most agree to be in the folk song is a kerria, named after the Kew Garden “plant collector” who identified it in China, William Kerr.

While the plant was claimed to be native to Japan, Kerr collected it in China. The taxonomists had opined that the “yellow rose” was Japanese by the time it was recorded with “japonica” in the scientific name. …


Dia de los Muertos photo by Eduardo Dorantes on Unsplash

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. asked us to cast a vote for him rather than Donald John Trump because, he said, the soul of America is at stake.

That’s a scary argument on many levels, not the least of which is the implied threat to suck us back before the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, when rulers were thought to be anointed by God. Scary or not, it might be true.

I tried to teach my undergraduate students that it takes more than a correct choice between legal and illegal to make a correct choice between right and wrong but the latter choice must still be made. …


The Senate sitting as an impeachment jury is not faring well in the court of public opinion.

“It’s…alive!” Public domain photo courtesy John Locke Foundation

I’ve even heard people I would have thought knew better criticize the Framers for the procedural steps they wrote down as prerequisite to nullifying an election. I’ve now watched three impeachments, four if you count the involuntary departure of Richard Nixon, and the claim of election nullification is always lurking.

Of course, it’s true that the result of an election is being nullified. Would it sound better if described as “giving the voters a mulligan?” Donald John Trump did not bring to the White House the education or the experience we have come to expect, he never got a majority…

Steve Russell

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)

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