Created in 1902, the United States District Court, Southern District of Texas quickly grew into one of the nation's largest and busiest federal trial courts. Serving the rapidly maturing region of southeast Texas, the Court soon had a large and unmanageable docket of public and private cases. Despite the addition of a new judge in 1942 and two new judges in 1949, the Southern District's extensive caseload constantly exceeded the ability of the Court's judges to effectively adjudicate all the business before them. Faced with caseload gridlock, the judges were forced to set priorities between the Court's various public and private functions, giving some categories of action precedence over others. The resulting choices shaped both the actions of the Southern District Court and its wider social, economic and political effects.
During the Court's first sixty years, one choice predominated. Pressed by various political, economic, social, personal and legal forces all stressing the need to promote the rapid economic development of southeast Texas, the Court's judges emphasized service to the private economic needs of regional and national businesses. They did this despite the presence of a strong public agenda demanding strict enforcement of government economic and social regulations. The end product of this private emphasis was that the Southern District Court served as a tool for businessmen in their drive to dominate southeast Texas's social, political and economic development.
Though only one of many tools utilized by proponents of private economic development, the Southern District Court was especially effective in promoting the stable patterns of growth necessary for private control of southeast Texas's future. As a relatively independent institution able set its own agenda, the Court quickly adapted its services to meet the changing needs of businesses for stability or expansion. In tough economic times, the Court protected vulnerable and failed business from collapse; in times of expansion, it promoted strict standards of ethical business behavior needed for stability. The end result was that the Court played an important, perhaps key, role in promoting business's domination of southeast Texas in the twentieth century, and hence, in shaping southeast Texas's development.