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 federal 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.
The United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas represents the United States in civil and criminal litigation in the court. As of December 9, 2022[update] the United States Attorney is Jaime E. Esparza.
Kocurek Assassination Attempt: Judge Lee Yeakel presided over the case of Chimene Onyeri, an aspiring Houston rapper who attempted to assassinate of Travis County district judge Julie Kocurek after she previously sentenced him for probation violation and a criminal theft and fraud enterprise he ran, having shot her as she and her son were returning home from a football game at his high school before she was about to sentence him. After his many associates testified of his schemes, a federal jury convicted Onyeri on 17 counts of fraud, theft, racketeering and attempted murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
^Recess appointment; formally nominated on January 15, 1962, confirmed by the Senate on March 16, 1962, and received commission on March 17, 1962.
^Judge Thornberry was nominated by President Kennedy but was appointed to the Court by (i.e., received his commission from) President Johnson.
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.
Succession of seats
Seat established on February 21, 1857 by 11 Stat. 164