In 1902 a new federal district court court was established to serve a broad segment of the Texas Gulf Coast region, including Houston. In the use of its discretion to choose between "private" and "public" law, this court for many years served the interests of the region's economic and political elite and helped stabilize a fast-changing economy that was undergoing wild swings of boom and bust. After 1945, however, the court reluctantly began to address growing demands for public law enforcement of national policies, including civil rights, and by 1960, public law issues had come to dominate the court's dockets. In this groundbreaking study of a representative lower federal court, Charles L. Zelden provides insight into the functioning of district courts and their impact on the larger legal, economic, and political systems. Combining the perspectives of legal history with those of economic, business, urban, political, and social history, and drawing on largely untapped manuscript court records, he offers a unique view of the ways in which the federal courts have shaped the nation's public and private life. The well-crafted narrative looks at the full range of the court's decisions, clearly explaining complex legal issues. It sketches in as well the personalities and political positions of the judges. Zelden demonstrates that a judge's personal and class background largely determined his judicial philosophy and set his agenda on the bench. Zelden's work contributes an important dimension to the growing literature on the economic, social, and urban history of Texas and of America in the first half of this century. It elucidates the judicial role in consolidating a cultural ethos of economic growth, self-reliant individualism, and freedom from governmental restraint.