History of the Federal Judiciary

History of the Federal Judiciary

  Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board and the Desegregation of New Orleans Schools

Richard Taylor Rives (1895–1982)

Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the Eleventh Circuit

Richard Taylor Rives was a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit during the 1950s and 1960s, during which time he presided over a number of important civil rights cases.

Born in 1895 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rives did not attend law school; he read law instead and entered the private practice of law in 1914 at the age of 19. He practiced law for two years, and then spent three years in the U.S. Army before resuming law practice. Rives remained in private law practice until his appointment to the bench in 1951.

Rives was active in Alabama Democratic Party politics. He directed several statewide political campaigns, including the U.S. Senate campaign of Hugo Black, and was close friends with Alabama Senators John Sparkman and Lister Hill. Rives never sought political office himself, believing that his liberal views on race would make election an impossibility.

Rives was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by President Harry Truman in 1951. During his time on the Fifth Circuit, Rives, along with Elbert Tuttle of Georgia, John Brown of Texas, and John Minor Wisdom of Louisiana, formed a liberal coalition that vigorously enforced desegregation mandates. Perhaps Rives’ most notable opinion was a 1956 decision in which he held that bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, violated the Constitution.

Rives served with Judges Herbert Christenberry and J. Skelly Wright on a threejudge federal district court that consistently struck down various efforts by the state of Louisiana to block school desegregation in New Orleans.

Rives served as chief judge of the Fifth Circuit from 1959 until 1960. In 1965 Rives took senior status. He opposed congressional efforts to split the Fifth Circuit into two circuits (which was eventually accomplished in 1980), believing that the division would harm civil rights by dividing the Fifth Circuit’s liberal judges into two circuits. Because he lived in Alabama, he became a member of the new Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 1981 and remained on the court until his death in 1982.


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