On August 30, 2013, the Texas Supreme Court decided two cases involving the Episcopal Church of the United States. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the cases, making the results final. (In case you’re wondering, this has nothing to do with oil and gas. The cases are of interest to me as an Episcopalian.) The two cases were basically a fight over ownership of church property. The parties engaged some of the most powerful firms and lawyers in the state, and multiple amicus briefs were filed. And the cases grapple with the right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
There are about 4.5 million Episcopalians in the U.S. — fewer than the number of Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Lutherans, or Presbyterians. Episcopalians, however, are often some of the elite and most powerful members of society in the U.S. The Episcopal Church in America was founded in 1789 and is a part of the Anglican Communion, which has about 80 million members worldwide. The Church is associated with and has its roots in the Church of England, founded by Henry VIII when Pope Clement VIII refused to approve the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
The two cases decided by the Texas Supreme Court last year, The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth v. The Episcopal Church, and Masterson v. The Diocese of Northwest Texas, have their genesis in the consecration of Gene Robinson by the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2004 — the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. In response, the Diocese of Fort Worth voted in 2007 and 2008 to withdraw from the Episcopal Church and enter into membership with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, a group of Anglican churches in South America. And the Diocese claimed to still own the properties of the churches within the Diocese of Fort Worth. (Three churches in the Diocese did not agree with the Diocese’s action and withdrew from the Diocese; the Diocese transferred property used by those churches to them.)
The 520,000-acre Waggoner Ranch is for sale for $725 million — about $1,400/acre. It is said to be the largest contiguous ranch in the U.S., and has been owned by the Waggoner family for more than 100 years.
Ownership of the Waggoner Ranch has been in litigation for more than 20 years. The suit was originally filed in 1991 by Electra Waggoner Biggs, one of the heirs, who died in 2001. Electra was a sculptor; her sculpture of Will Rogers on his horse Soap Suds is on the Texas Tech University campus.
The colorful history of the Waggoner family was documented in an article by Gary Cartwright in Texas Monthly in 2004. It’s a great read.
Recently my son was watching the movie “Holes,” a great adventure movie based on a book by the same name written by Louis Sacher in 1988. Sacher also wrote the screenplay for the movie, which came out in 2003. In the story, Stanley Yelnats IV, a teenager, is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp, for stealing a pair of sneakers. Green Lake was a dried-up lakebed in Texas where the camp detainees were forced by the evil warden (played by Sigourney Weaver) to dig holes looking for a buried treasure. It’s a great growing-up story.
The movie reminded me that Green Lake is a real place in Texas that has its own fascinating legal history.
Green Lake is the largest natural fresh-water lake in Texas. Located in Calhoun County near the coast, it covers an acre of about 10,000 acres.
In the later chapters of The Quest, Daniel Yergin summarizes the history of the internal combustion engine. He begins by recounting a meeting of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison at a convention in August 1896, at which they sat together. Ford had just built his first gasoline-powered “quadricycle.” He sketched out his design to Edison. Edison told him that the problem with electric-powered vehicles is that they “must keep near a power station.” Edison told Ford to stick with the internal combustion engine.
The internal combustion engine was invented by Nikolaus Otto. His “Otto cycle” engine, developed in 1876, is still recognizable in our engines today: valves, a crankshaft, spark plugs, and a single cylinder. Otto teamed with Karl Benz to produce automobiles, and Gottlieb Daimler was in close competition. (In the twentieth century, the two companies merged, though Benz and Daimler never met each other.) By the 1890’s Daimler was distributing his cars in America.
Germany competed with France — with the French engineers Armand Peugeot and Louis Renault — for supremacy in the development of the automobile. Britain was initially left behind because its railway industry, fearing competition, got Parliament to pass the Red Flag Acts that limited “road locomotives” to four miles an hour in the country and two miles an hour in cities — as well as requiring a man carrying a red flag to walk in front of road vehicles hauling multiple wagons.
I recently came across a study just published by a group of sociology professors testing our ability to make decisions based on facts. It takes a little explanation, but it is worth looking at. The question they asked: Why does public conflict over societal risks persist in the face of compellng and widely accessible scientific evidence? To find out, the professors asked 1,111 participants a series of questions designed to gauge their political views, and then they were asked to solve a word math problem. Half of the participants were given the following problem:
The correct answer? Patients who used the skin cream were more likely to get worse than those who didn’t. Roughly 1 in 3 patients who used the skin cream got worse, but roughly 1 in 5 of those who didn’t use the skin cream got worse. Solving the problem requires skill in “numeracy”, basically the ability to solve math problems. (For the study, the data were reversed for half of the participants and presented so that they suggested that the skin cream did work.) 59% of those in the study got the answer wrong. The more “numerate” the study participants were, the more likely they were to get the problem right. That was true whether the participants were liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans.
The other half of the participants were given a different problem: they were asked to determine the effectivenes of laws “banning private citizens from carrying concealed handguns in public.” Participants were given data about cities that had or had not passed concealed carry bans, and where crime in these cities had or had not decreased. The numbers used in this problem were exactly the same as those in the skin-rash problem. The results are shown below:
State Representative Harold Dutton, Jr. has introduced a bill in the Texas Legislature to amend Texas’ Open Beaches Act. What does this have to do with oil and gas, you may ask? Read on.
Last year, the Texas Supreme Court decided a case interpreting the Open Beaches Act, Severance v. Patterson, 370 S.W.3d 705 (Tex. 2012). The case arose because of Hurricane Rita. Carol Severance owned two beachfront houses on Galveston Island, as rental properties. Because of Hurricane Rita, erosion shifted the beach vegetation line farther landward, causing both homes to be located on the dry beach facing the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, under the Open Beaches Act, the Commissioner of the General Land Office informed Severance that she would have to remove the houses and offered her $40,000 assistance to relocate or demolish them. Severance then sued the Commissioner in US District Court claiming that the Commissioner’s action constituted a taking of her property without compensation under the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. Her case was dismissed, and she appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court, after analyzing the case, concluded that Texas law was unclear on the matter, and it submitted “certified questions” to the Texas Supreme Court.
To understand the significance of Severance v. Patterson, it is necessary to go back a ways, to the Texas Supreme Court case of Luttes v. State, 324 S.W.2d 167 (1958). In that case, Mr. Luttes was claiming to own about 3,400 acres of “mud flats” lying on the edge of the Laguna Madre in Cameron County. The State of Texas holds title to all submerged lands along the coast, including lands within the Laguna Madre, the long, shallow lagoon that runs between the mainland and Padre Island along much of the Texas Gulf Coast. Mr. Luttes contended that these mud flats were part of his “dry land”, and not “submerged land” belonging to the State.
I love graphs. The Energy Information Administration, the guys that crunch numbers on all things energy-related, have come up with a new way to let us graph-lovers play with their data. The new interface is in its beta testing version, and you can play with it here. The site allows you to create your own graphs by selecting the data you want to depict. This allows you to compare two or more sets of data in graphic form. Here are some examples:
Try it for yourself. It’s fun, and you may learn something in the process.
The Texas Supreme Court Historical Society has published an article by David A. Furlow on the life of John Hemphill, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas. John Hemphill was a remarkable character, one of the pioneering men and women who settled in Texas during its birth as a nation and then a state.
John Hemphill was born in 1803 in South Carolina to a Presbyterian minister and his wife; went to Jefferson College (now Washington and Jefferson College) in Washington, Pennsylvania; began his legal studies “reading the law” in Columbia, South Carolina in 1829; practiced law in Sumter, South Carolina; served in the U.S. Army in the Seminole War of 1836 in Florida; and moved to Texas in 1838, at the age of 35, two years after
Texas won its independence from Mexico. He set up his law practice in Washington-on-the-Brazos.
In 1840, President Mirabeau B. Lamar appointed Hemphill to the Texas Supreme Court. He also served as a judge of the Fourth Judicial District. On December 5, 1840, he won election to replace Thomas J. Rusk as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In 1846, when Texas joined the Union, Governor J. Pinckney Henderson appointed Hemphill the first Chief Justice of the new Texas Supreme Court, where he served until November 1858. He resigned from the Court to take Sam Houston’s place as United States Senator, when Houston resigned because he refused to support Texas’ withdrawal from the Union. After Texas joined the Confederacy, Hemphill served in the Provisional Confederate Congress, and he died of pneumonia in Richmond, Virginia, in January 1862.
On March 19, 1840, Hemphill presided over an unusual and historic meeting between Comanches and Texas representatives seeking to make peace with the Chomanche tribes, held in San Antonio. The meeting did not go well. The Comanches brought with them a sixteen-year-old-girl, Matilda Lockhart, who had been abducted by the Comanches in 1838. Mary Ann Maverick (a member of the Maverick family that gave their name to unbranded cattle)
was there and described Matilda: “Her head, arms and face were full of bruises and sores, and her nose [was] actually burnt off to the bone–all the fleshy end gone, and a great scab formed on the end of the bone. …. She told a piteous tale of how dreadfully the Indians had
beaten her, and how they would wake her from her sleep by sticking a chunk of fire to her flesh, especially to her nose.” Matilda’s treatment did not endear the Comanches to the Texans present. Matilda, who understood the Comanche language, told the Texans that the Comanches held another fifteen Texas hostages, whom the Comanches intended to
ransom one by one to the Texans for the highest price they could get. The result was a fight, later named the Council House Fight, in which several of the Comanches were killed. Hemphill, attacked by one
of the chiefs, pulled a “long knife from under his judicial robes and slew his antagonist.” True frontier justice. The result of this failed attempt at peace-making was a long-running war between Texans and Comanches that was not finally concluded until after the Civil War.
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