The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 62, July 1958 - April, 1959 Page: 151
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The Reconstruction Courts of Texas, 1867-1873
wise provided by law" and a semicolon between the county seat
voting clause and the four day voting clause. The method adopted
by the court in ascertaining the meaning of a constitutional or
legislative provision is neither novel nor is it to be necessarily
condemned. After all, punctuation is a recognized aid to the
ascertainment of the meaning of written instruments.20 Without
20In the original opinion in the case of Shannon vs. Rogers, Southwestern Re-
porter, Second Series, CCCXIV, 8xo, decided by the Supreme Court in 1958, Mr.
Justice Garwood appended the following footnote:
"Ex parte Rodriguez, 39 Tex. 706 (1873) by the so-called 'Semicolon Court'
(sometimes also described as 'Carpet Bag') is, of course, the origin of a hostility,
still evident in many quarters, toward semicolons and toward those who rely on
them in the process of construing provisions of positive law (perhaps private
written instruments as well). The fact that this hostility has never extended to
colons, commas or periods, and the well-known political and emotional background
of Ex parte Rodriguez, both confirm that our disrespect for semicolons is largely
political, which is but another way of saying that it has little to do with punctua-
tion and still less with law.
"The legal question at issue in Ex parte Rodriguez was the power of the legis-
lature over elections in the light of the constitutional provision reading, 'All elec-
tions .. shall be held at the county seats, .. until otherwise provided by law;
and the polls shall be opened for four days . .' The court, with the aid of
the semicolon following the word 'law,' held that the legislature, while it might
change the place of the election, could not change the time during which the
polls should remain open.
"Rather obviously, the court's reliance on the semicolon (of course, it also
relied on the grammatical arrangement of the sentence) cannot justly be regarded
as unjudicial or even unusual. It was but a convenient point for popular criticism
of the judges, who sat in the case, owing their positions to the Reconstruction
government, and of the decision itself, which theoretically voided the election
whereby the resurgent Democrats, constituting the bulk of our population, were
wresting political control from those allied to the Reconstruction forces.
"A Texas law tradition paralleling the one against semicolons is that whereby
we disrgard as precedents the decisions of our Reconstruction courts. Assuming
the soundness of this practice, it would be quite logical to apply it by forgetting
Ex parte Rodriguez altogether, along with the other Reconstruction court de-
cisions and, forgetting it, to forget also our related hostility to semicolons.
"For these reasons we consider it permissible, in a proper case, to give con-
sideration to semicolons equally with other, and less celebrated, punctuation marks
such as colons, commas and periods."
Upon rehearing the order of the Court was changed necessitating the with-
drawal of the original opinion, so that the quoted footnote does not appear in
the report of the case in either the Southwestern Reporter or the official reports.
With reference to the prejudice against semicolons, W. H. Jack, a practicing
attorney of Dallas, Texas, relates that upon one occasion, he sat in a conference
working out the details of a transfer of certain oil producing properties in East
Texas. At the end of the conference a New York lawyer who had taken notes
throughout the negotiations submitted a draft of a proposed contract. Mr. Jack
looked it over and commented with some surprise that it was unusual in that the
only indications of punctuation were paragraphs and periods. The New York
lawyer then explained that he understood that semicolons were not favored in
Texas legal documents and that he had also left out the commas for good meas-
ure. Mr. Jack thereupon advised his clients to sign the contract.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 62, July 1958 - April, 1959, periodical, 1959; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101173/m1/193/: accessed April 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.