David Beck (pictured) now can claim he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and won one of the most important cases in Texas history. But there are a few minor caveats that the partner in Houston’s Beck Redden & Secrest will have to add: The victory in Texas v. White actually occurred 142 years ago, and his argument before U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Nov. 9 was part of a re-enactment for The Supreme Court Historical Society. Beck’s client was the state of Texas, which after the Civil War sought to recover some federal bonds converted for use for military purposes after the Lone Star State seceded from the Union in 1861. The big question for the high court back during the 1868 argument was whether Texas was indeed a state in 1861 when it made that move to convert the bonds. “And the argument I made was, even though Texas and the other Confederate states purported to withdraw from the Union in 1861, that was unlawful. And the terrible war between the states was to confirm the principle that a state has no right to withdraw. And that was confirmed by the Union’s victory in 1865. And that’s essentially what the court held in its opinion that it rendered in 1869,” Beck says. Beck says there are no transcripts from the real argument in that historic case, but he and his opposing counsel worked off of the parties’ original briefs when preparing for the argument re-enactment. Yet there was one glaring historical inaccuracy about the argument, Beck says. Patricia Millett (pictured), a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, represented the defendants in the re-enactment. “The first thing Justice Scalia said was, ‘Good evening, Ms. Millett. We don’t see many women here,’ ” Beck recalls. Women weren’t granted the right to vote until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, and female lawyers were not common in the U.S. until the late into the 20th Century. “And she said, ‘I understand that, your honor. Thank goodness for the 14th Amendment,’ which I think was a wonderful exchange.” The 14th Amendment, which gave United States citizens the Equal Protection Clause, was ratified in 1869 — the same year Texas v. White was argued. Millett says she enjoyed the exchange with Scalia. And even though she was representing clients that were destined to lose, she still got her licks in during argument. “And at one point, Justice Scalia said, ‘Huh. I never thought of that,’ ” she says.
--- John Council