Sidney A. Fitzwater
Early life and education
Born in Olney, Maryland, Fitzwater earned his BA from Baylor University, and his JD from Baylor University School of Law in 1976, where he was Associate Editor of the Baylor Law Review. Fitzwater worked in private legal practice in Houston, Texas from 1976 until 1978 and in private legal practice in Dallas, Texas from 1978 until 1982. He later served as a state district judge on the 298th Judicial District in Dallas from 1982-86. Fitzwater has been a judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas since 1986, serving as Chief Judge from 2007 to 2014.
On January 29, 1986, Fitzwater was nominated to be a United States District Judge by President Ronald Reagan. Fitzwater's nomination sparked controversy in part because of allegations raised at his confirmation hearing about alleged voter intimidation in African-American neighborhoods in south Dallas, Texas during the unsuccessful 1982 re-election campaign of Texas Gov. Bill Clements.
He addressed the allegations at his confirmation hearing by apologizing and by asserting that he was not aware that he was asked to place signs—reading "You Can Be Imprisoned" and giving vague descriptions of campaign violations—only in black neighborhoods in south Dallas. Fitzwater testified that he thought he was participating in an anti-vote-fraud effort, and he noted that he later was dropped from a federal lawsuit by minority groups. Fitzwater also noted that the lawsuit later was dismissed. At his second hearing in February 1986, Fitzwater told the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary that he would not participate in such sign posting again. "I had no personal intent, nor was I attempting to intimidate minority voters", Fitzwater told Senator Biden (D-DE).
Despite this controversy, the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary voted 10-5 on February 27, 1986 to refer Fitzwater's nomination to the full Senate. The United States Senate confirmed Fitzwater in a 52-42 vote on March 18, 1986. Aged 32, he was one of the youngest lawyers ever appointed to the federal bench.
Nomination to the Fifth Circuit
On January 24, 1992, President George H.W. Bush nominated Fitzwater to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. However, with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee controlled by Democrats, Fitzwater's nomination languished, and he never received a hearing before Bush's presidency ended. President Bill Clinton chose not to renominate Fitzwater to the Fifth Circuit, nominating Fortunato Benavides instead. In 2006, there was speculation that President George W. Bush would nominate Judge Fitzwater to the Fifth Circuit, but the President instead nominated Jennifer Elrod.
Judge Fitzwater received the Dallas Bar Association’s highest overall poll evaluation for federal judges in the last two years surveyed: 2009 and 2011. In each year, at least 80% of respondents rated his overall performance as "excellent", and 96% rated his performance as "excellent" or "acceptable".
- Fitzwater profile
- Baker, Kathryn (February 5, 1986). "Panel Grills Judge Nominee About Sign-Posting in Minority Areas". Associated Press.
- Baker, Kathryn (February 28, 1986). "Fitzwater Approved by Senate Panel". Associated Press.
- Fitzwater ratings
- Marriage of Fitzwater clerk George Prescott Bush
- Sidney A. Fitzwater at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.