Here Come The Judges—Down The Aisle!
APR 4, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: APR 4, 2022
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of the Supreme Court of Texas and Chief Judge Priscilla Owen of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
It’s springtime, and love is in the air—especially for federal judges. A prominent Fourth Circuit judge just published a romance novel. And now the chief judge of the Fifth Circuit is getting married—to a fellow chief, no less.
This coming Sunday, April 10, Chief Judge Priscilla R. Owen of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht of the Supreme Court of Texas will be married. It would be hard to imagine a more high-powered judicial couple than the chief judge of the nation’s second-largest circuit court and the chief justice of the nation’s second-largest state. Congratulations and best wishes to the happy couple, whose union gives new meaning to “federal-state comity.”
Chief Judge Owen, 67, has served on the Fifth Circuit since her 2005 appointment by President George W. Bush, and as chief judge since 2019. Before joining the Fifth Circuit, from 1995 to 2005, she served as a justice of the Texas Supreme Court (“SCOTX,” pronounced “Sco-Tex”)—where she overlapped with then-Justice Hecht. Before taking the bench, she was a partner at Andrews Kurth (now Hunton Andrews Kurth). She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and Baylor Law (and, fun fact, she earned the highest score on the Texas Bar Exam for December 1977).1
Chief Justice Hecht, 72, has served on the Texas Supreme Court since 1989, and as chief justice since 2013. He is the 27th chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, the longest-serving member of that court in Texas history, and the longest-tenured Texas judge in active service. Before joining the SCOTX, he served as a judge on the Texas Court of Appeals for the Fifth District, to which he was elected in 1986, and on the 95th District Court of Dallas County, to which he was appointed in 1981. Before taking the bench, he was a partner at Locke Purnell (now Locke Lord). He graduated from Yale and the SMU Dedman School of Law, then clerked on the D.C. Circuit before returning to Texas.
It’s unclear when romantic hearts started beating underneath their robes, but the two judges have been personally close for years. When Judge Owen was sworn into the Fifth Circuit in 2005, then-Justice Hecht administered the oath of office. Similarly, when Justice Hecht was sworn in as Chief Justice in 2013, then-Judge Owen held the Sam Houston Bible. They became colleagues in 1995, when Owen joined the SCOTX more than 27 years ago.
When Judge Priscilla Owen (right) was sworn into the Fifth Circuit in 2005, then-Justice Nathan Hecht administered the oath of office.
Judge Owen’s mother holds the Sam Houston Bible. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc./Corbis via Getty Images.)
Judge Don Willett—who succeeded Chief Judge Owen on the Texas Supreme Court, and is now her colleague on the Fifth Circuit—told me, “This is a beautiful ‘courtship’ decades in the making. The chiefs are a formidable legal duo, to be sure, but also two of the kindest people I know. They are adorable together, and I wish them a life sentence of love and happiness.”
“I wish the chiefs much joy in their marriage,” said Judge Jennifer Elrod, who will succeed Judge Owen as Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit in 2024. “They are both brilliant and kind and so well-matched.”
Interestingly enough, there is precedent for the chief judge of the Fifth Circuit marrying a fellow judge. In 2004, then-Chief Judge Carolyn Dineen King married her Fifth Circuit colleague, Judge Thomas M. Reavley. They remained married until Judge Reavley passed away in 2020 at the age of 99. (Professor Marin Levy recounts their delightful love story in this Twitter thread.)2
Judges are used to being in charge, so being married to a fellow judge—a fellow chief judge, in fact—might present special challenges. Who’s in charge in the Owen-Hecht relationship? Yes, the federal government and Texas are separate sovereigns—but surely Priscilla can invoke the Supremacy Clause to make Nathan take out the trash.
Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes the judicial romances.
UPDATE (11:53 a.m.): From an observant reader: “I think SCOTX currently has 7 certifications from CA5. Chief Justice Hecht should insist on a prenup limiting certifications to 1 case per Term!”
After they are married, the bride will return to using her birth name, Priscilla Richman—so if you hear of a “Chief Judge Richman” sometime soon, that’s the explanation. This seems like a wise decision; having a “Chief Judge Hecht” and a “Chief Justice Hecht” in the same state could be confusing.
There have been other judicial power couples over the years.
For example, as Howard Bashman noted in a 2004 column for the Legal Intelligencer, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz of the Fourth Circuit is married to Judge J. Frederick Motz of the District of Maryland—one of the courts that gets reviewed by the Fourth Circuit. Did hubby forget to unload the dishwasher? Mandamus him!
As for other federal-state marriages, Judge Lucy Koh—now a judge on the Ninth Circuit, previously a judge for the Northern District of California—is married to Mariano-Florentino “Tino” Cuéllar, until recently a justice on the California Supreme Court.
Judge John Kronstadt of the Central District of California is married to Justice Helen Bendix of the California Court of Appeal, Second District.
These are just examples.