The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas (in case citations, S.D. Tex.) is the federal district court with jurisdiction over the southeastern part of Texas. The court's headquarters is in Houston, Texas and has six additional locations in the district.
Appeals from cases brought in the Southern District of Texas are taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (except for patent claims and claims against the U.S. government under the Tucker Act, which are appealed to the Federal Circuit).
As of March 1, 2021Acting United States Attorney is Jennifer Lowery.
Along with the Western District of Texas, District of New Mexico, and District of Arizona, it is one of the busiest district courts in terms of criminal felony filings.
Federal Courthouse in Galveston that housed the court & its predecessor, from 1891–1917
Since its foundation, the Southern District of Texas has been served by forty-one District Judges and six Clerks of Court. The first federal judge in Texas was John C. Watrous, who was appointed on May 26, 1846, and had previously served as Attorney General of the Republic of Texas. He was assigned to hold court in Galveston, at the time, the largest city in the state. As seat of the Texas Judicial District, the Galveston court had jurisdiction over the whole state. On February 21, 1857, the state was divided into two districts, Eastern and Western, with Judge Watrous continuing in the Eastern district. Judge Watrous and Judge Thomas H. DuVal, of the Western District of Texas, left the state on the secession of Texas from the Union, the only two United States Judges not to resign their posts in states that seceded. When Texas was restored to the Union, Watrous and DuVal resumed their duties and served until 1870. Judge Amos Morrill served in the Eastern District of Texas from 1872 to 1884. He was succeeded by Chauncy B. Sabin (1884 to 1890) and David E. Bryant (1890 to 1902). In 1902, when the Southern District was created by Act of Congress, Judge Bryant continued to serve in the Eastern District of Texas.
In 1917, the General Services Administration added courtrooms and judicial offices to the second floor of the 1861 U.S. Customs House in Galveston, and it became the new federal courthouse for the Southern District of Texas. This location would later become the seat of the Galveston Division, after Congress added a second judgeship in the 1930s.
The Southern District of Texas started with one judge, Waller T. Burns, and a Clerk of Court, Christopher Dart, seated in Galveston. Since that time, the court has grown to nineteen district judgeships, six bankruptcy judgeships, fourteen magistrate judgeships, and over 200 deputy clerks.
The U.S. federal building in Galveston, current home of the Galveston Division.
In 2007, criminal charges were filed against Judge Samuel B. Kent, the only District judge in the Galveston Division, who sat at the Federal Courthouse in Galveston, the oldest federal judgeship in the state. Due to the litigation, Chief Judge Hayden Head transferred Kent and his staff to the Houston Division. Judge Kent subsequently pleaded guilty, in February 2009, to obstruction of justice and, after being impeached by the House of Representatives, resigned in June 2009. The next month, it was announced that Judge Kent's post would remain vacant for the time being, and a replacement judge would be assigned to McAllen, due to the increase in cases in the Texas border area concerning subjects such as drugs and immigration.
The United States Courthouse is the current home of the Laredo Division.
Laredo, Texas, is located on the northern bank of the Rio Grande River and is unique in its ability to operate international bridges between two Mexican states. The city presently maintains four border crossings and one rail bridge with the Mexican State of Tamaulipas at Nuevo Laredo and the Mexican State of Nuevo León at Colombia. Webb County also borders the State of Nuevo León and the State of Coahuila, Mexico, northwest of Laredo. Laredo is the largest inland port along the U.S.-Mexico border and the Pan American Highway leading into Mexico through Laredo stretches from Canada and continues into Central and South America. Because of its location and accessibility to Mexico, Laredo’s economy is primarily based on international trade with Mexico. According to the Laredo Development Foundation, more than 700 of the Fortune 1,000 companies do international business via Laredo and more than 9,000 trucks cross through town per day along with 1,800 loaded rail cars. Laredo is ranked first in growth in Texas and seventh in the country by the Milken Institute.
The division encompasses five counties with the federal courthouse located in Laredo, Texas. There are two Laredo district court judges—Judges Diana Saldaña and Marina Garcia Marmolejo, who presided over more than 2,000 felony cases in 2013—most of which involved charges of narcotics trafficking and alien smuggling. In addition, there are three federal magistrates who alternate duties every two weeks. Additionally, the federal grand jury convenes every other week where AUSAs rotate the responsibility of presenting felony cases.
Chief judges have administrative responsibilities with respect to their district court. Unlike the Supreme Court, where one justice is specifically nominated to be chief, the office of chief judge rotates among the district court judges. To be chief, a judge must have been in active service on the court for at least one year, be under the age of 65, and have not previously served as chief judge. A vacancy is filled by the judge highest in seniority among the group of qualified judges. The chief judge serves for a term of seven years or until age 70, whichever occurs first. The age restrictions are waived if no members of the court would otherwise be qualified for the position.
When the office was created in 1948, the chief judge was the longest-serving judge who had not elected to retire on what has since 1958 been known as senior status or declined to serve as chief judge. After August 6, 1959, judges could not become or remain chief after turning 70 years old. The current rules have been in operation since October 1, 1982.