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Papers of Judge John Paul

Identifier: MSS-81-7

Scope and Contents

The Paul papers are organized in six series based upon the nature of the files: administrative material, general civil and criminal cases, bankruptcy cases, land condemnation cases, professional correspondence, and speeches and articles.

Series I is comprised of administrative files containing extensive correspondence and records of the administration of the federal district court, from the early 1930s to the early 1960s. Changes over these years, and Paul's reactions to them, are reflected in reports and in correspondence with other judges, the district court staff, and the staff of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. Other substantial files in this series contain information regarding case loads, rules of court, probation, jury call decisions, and the appointments of U.S. commissioners.

Series II consists of general civil and criminal case files arranged in alphabetical order by plaintiff last name. While these files primarily contain correspondence, there are occasional copies of some of the court records of a case. By far the single most important cases in the collection are those concerning school desegregation. The case files for Allen v. School Board of the City of Charlottesville and Kilby v. School Board of Warren County contain Paul's extensive correspondence with other district and circuit judges, as well as with the lawyers involved, annotated motions, drafts of opinions, and other important documents. The general case files are followed by motions, pleadings and orders, and by handwritten notes taken from the bench, which had been kept separate from the case files.

The school desegregation cases have many exchanges of letters with J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., John S. Battle, Jr., Oliver W. Hill, Spottswood W. Robinson, III, and S. W. Tucker.

Series III, the bankruptcy case files, is broken into two subseries. The first subseries contains files concerning bankruptcies of individuals and businesses, which are preceded by the administrative files concerning these cases. The second subseries concerns bankruptcies of farmers handled under Section 75 of the Bankruptcy Act.

Series IV is comprised of land condemnation cases, which are listed by last name of the first owner named in the case; also noted is the county in which the land is located. These files include the commissioners' reports, orders, opinions (some handwritten), and correspondence.

Series V contains professional correspondence between Jugde Paul and other judges.

Series VI contains a small collection of speeches and articles by Judge Paul.

Not limited to Series V, but sprinkled throughout the collection, is Judge Paul's correspondence with other judges. His most frequent and long-term correspondent was Judge Alfred D. Barksdale. Other judges with whom he corresponded regularly when their terms overlapped were Albert V. Bryan, Armistead M. Dobie, Ted Dalton, Sterling Hutcheson, John J. Parker, Floyd H. Roberts, Simon E. Sobeloff, and Roby C. Thompson.


  • Creation: 1930 - 1964


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Biographical / Historical

John Paul was born December 9, 1883, one of six children of John and Katherine Green Paul. The elder John Paul had taken his law degree at the University of Virginia (Class of 1867), and served as both Commonwealth's Attorney and member of the Virginia State Senate before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1880. Three months before the birth of his son John, he left Congress to become District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, a position he held until his death in 1901.

The Paul family was prominent in the Shenandoah Valley and lived on a large Rockingham County farm called Ottobine. The younger John Paul inherited this property and lived there his entire life, raising cattle as he pursued his legal career. After graduating from the Virginia Military Institute with a degree in civil engineering, he studied law at the University of Virginia and graduated in 1906. He entered private practice in Harrisonburg, and before long launched his political career with an unsuccessful bid as Republican candidate for Congress in 1910. In 1912 he was elected to the state senate, and attended the first of four consecutive Republican national conventions. In 1914, he married Frances Danenhower.

While Paul was serving as a field artillery captain in France during World War I, his wife died. After the war, he returned to the state senate and in 1920 was elected to a term in Congress. In 1924 he was appointed special assistant to the United States Attorney General, and the following year became U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. In December 1932, President Herbert Hoover appointed Paul to the federal bench in the western district of Virginia. In 1939, he married Alice Kelly Taylor.

When John Paul went on the court in 1932, he was the sole judge for a district serving a large, predominantly rural, area. The court met twice a year in each of seven locations: Abingdon, Big Stone Gap, Charlottesville, Danville, Harrisonburg, Lynchburg, and Roanoke. Paul was appointed to succeed Judge Henry Clay McDowell (Class of 1885), his father's successor on the bench, only weeks before Franklin Roosevelt became president.

One of the most significant of Paul's early decisions was U.S. v. Appalachian Electric Power Co., 23 F. Supp. 83 (1938), although his files on this case are not extensive. The Federal Power Commission had wanted the electric company to apply for a license before building a dam on the New River. When it did not do so, the federal government sued to enjoin construction. Paul dismissed the government's suit, ruling that the New was not a navigable river, and that the dam would therefore not impair interstate commerce. His decision was upheld by the Fourth Circuit, but overturned by the Supreme Court two years later.

One group of cases that required a great deal of Paul's time and attention concerned land condemnation by the federal government. Under the Weeks Forestry Act of 1911, the federal government had, between 1912 and 1932, claimed 700,000 acres of Virginia for national forest, and in 1933 efforts were begun to claim two million more over the next ten years. The monetary value of the land was seldom in dispute, having been assessed at fair market value by a local, court-appointed commissioner, but in many cases titles were deficient. These areas of forest had first been parceled out in the late eighteenth century in hundred- thousand acre lots, and over the years had been divided and sold many times. Almost from the beginning, Paul was inundated with complex condemnation proceedings.

Even when he was no longer sole judge for the district, Paul continued to handle all condemnation cases. In the 1950s, he was a vociferous opponent of a controversial proposal to amend Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 71A to require that all valuation of condemned land be by jury rather than by court-appointed commissioners.

The most sensational case Paul heard during the 1930s was the Franklin County liquor conspiracy case. Twenty-three men, many of them county officials, were accused of turning their heads or actually aiding large-scale illegal liquor manufacturing in the county over a number of years. (Just how much liquor was made became clear in testimony that thirty-five tons of a particular brand of yeast had been sold in Franklin over a four-year period.) The trial lasted fifty days, a record in modern Virginia court history, and resulted in twenty convictions. Unfortunately, there are no files in the collection about this case, possibly because Paul gave them to someone planning to write about it.

By the end of the 30s, Paul's workload was staggering. In a 1937 letter to Senator Carter Glass, he described in great detail how much travelling he had to do, how difficult it was for lawyers to contact him, and how hard it was to keep on top of his written work. In addition to the large number of condemnation cases, he noted that civil suits involving the government had increased by almost a hundred percent during the Roosevelt administration. Furthermore, with new rules of civil procedure soon to go into effect, he foresaw an increase in interlocutory motions that would demand more of his time. In seeking relief from this difficult schedule, Paul favored the elimination of two of the seven court locations rather than the appointment of another judge in the district. He did not want a law clerk, nor did he ever employ one.

Congress soon decided that the Western District needed another judge, and in July 1939, Armistead Mason Dobie was appointed. Dobie served only six months before being appointed to the Fourth Circuit, and Alfred Dickinson Barksdale took his place on the district bench. At the end of 1939, Paul made his first report of caseload statistics to the newly created Judicial Council for the Fourth Circuit. He reported that 276 cases were still pending from the year before, proceedings were begun in 678 civil and criminal cases, and 799 bankruptcies were filed -- adequate evidence that a second judge was needed. With two judges, the court continued to meet twice a year in seven locations. For over seventeen years Paul and Barksdale worked quite amicably together, corresponded often, travelled to meetings together, and occasionally socialized along with their wives. Although his letters were always reserved, Paul was more open and affectionate with Barksdale than with most correspondents.

In addition to the condemnation cases, Paul heard a large number of bankruptcy and debt cases through the 30s, 40s, and early 50s. There were also a number of illegal liquor cases of much smaller magnitude than the Franklin County cases. During World War II, there were a few cases involving conscientious objectors and quite a few brought by the Office of Price Administration against violators of price fixing.

Until the late 50s, however, Paul's work had received little media attention. This changed dramatically with the school desegregation cases, which came in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In July 1956, in Allen v. School Board of the City of Charlottesville, Paul became the first judge in Virginia to enjoin any school admission decisions based on race. In the summer of 1958, he officially retired in order to be free of administrative duties as chief judge of the Western District, although he would continue to hear cases until the end of his life. In September, soon after the announcement of his "retirement," the Charlottesville case came before him again because the city's schools were still entirely segregated. Paul ordered ten African American children admitted to a white elementary school, and two to the white high school. All of these children lived closer to the white schools than the segregated ones they had been attending. On 9 September, The New York Times ran a front-page article on the Allen case, and reported Paul's statement from the bench accusing "politicians" and "officers of the state" of inciting public hostility to the racial integration of Virginia's public schools.

As Paul expected, a few days later Governor J. Lindsay Almond closed the Charlottesville schools. The schools reopened after the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and a three-judge federal district court both ruled on January 19, 1959, that the school closing was unconstitutional. Harrison v. Day, 200 Va. 439, 106 S.E.2d 636 (1959); James v. Almond, 170 F. Supp. 331 (E.D. Va. 1959).

In 1959, Paul approved the school system's plan to divide the city into six geographical districts and to assign all city elementary students to neighborhood schools. In practice, however, the white children in the one predominantly African American district were automatically reassigned to a white school. There was one white and one African American high school in the city, and African American students who petitioned for admittance to the white high school were subjected to evaluations of their academic records and school behavior. When, in 1960, plaintiffs objected to this unequal treatment, Paul upheld it with certain reservations. The Fourth Circuit, in Dodson v. School Board, 289 F.2d 439 (1961), refused to reverse Paul's decision but directed the school system to move toward a fairer plan. They noted that school authorities had made a genuine effort to begin desegregation, and that the "able and conscientious" District Judge had retained the case on his docket for future action as necessary. When the plaintiffs returned to his court, Paul followed the direction of the circuit and ordered the school system to apply admissions procedures absolutely equally to both races. He declared, "This in effect means that as matters now stand attendance at the high schools in Charlottesville is to be based solely on the student's decision as to which school he prefers to attend." Allen v. School Board, 203 F. Supp. 225, 229 (1961).

Two years after the Allen case got under way, Paul began hearing another desegregation case. Warren County had three elementary schools for white children, one elementary school for African American children, and one high school for whites only. Consequently, the county was transporting its African American high school students to other counties. In 1958, Paul issued an injunction, affirmed by the Fourth Circuit, ordering the school system immediately to admit the plaintiffs to the white high school. School Board of Warren County v. Kilby, 259 F.2d 497 (1958). Although the governor promptly closed the high school, when it reopened in early 1959 twenty-two African American students were allowed to attend Warren County High School. Paul felt swift action was called for in this case of egregious inequality, although total integration was by no means achieved quickly.

Paul's measured rulings in the Charlottesville and Warren County cases show no particular inclination to push the white community beyond the minimum school integration required by Brown. Viewed in the context of Virginia's political atmosphere, though, Paul's approach seems quite moderate and reasonable. He approached a situation that many Virginians saw as catastrophic with the same dignity, respect for the law, and sense of fairness that he had brought to property or illegal liquor cases.

The Charlottesville and other school integration cases hit Paul late in his career, and with them came unprecedented citizen and media attention, much of it unfavorable. Since he was in his late 70s, once again a widower, and in poor health, he had reasonable excuses for leaving these difficult issues to younger judges. But there is no indication in Paul's papers that he ever considered such a possibility. He appeared in court only a few weeks before his death, at the age of eighty, on February 13, 1964.


41.7 Cubic Feet (94 archival boxes)


This collection contains the Judicial and working files papers (1930-1964) of Judge John Paul (U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia). Included are several desegregation cases: Allen v. School Board of City of Charlottesville, Goins v. County School Board of Grayson County, Walker v. Floyd County School Board and Swanson v. Rector of U.Va., and extensive correspondence related to these cases. The collection also contains administrative files, general civil and criminal cases, bankruptcy cases, land condemnation cases, professional correspondence, speeches and articles.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers of Judge John Paul were donated to the University of Virginia by his estate, and transferred to Alderman Library from the District Court building in Harrisonburg in 1966. The collection was transferred to the Law Library in 1981.

Physical Description

This collection, filling 36 linear feet, is comprised of 94 boxes.1 arbitrary_unit

Judicial Papers of Judge John Paul, 1930-1964, Mss 81-7
Paul, John Papers, Mss 81-7
© 2001 By the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. All rights reserved.
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Web version of the finding aid funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library Special Collections Repository

Arthur J. Morris Law Library
580 Massie Road
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22903 United States