Jefferson's Dissent in SWBT v. Mitchell, No. 05-0171 (Tex. Dec. 19, 2008)(Hecht)
(workers comp, deadline for carrier to contest compensability of employee's injury; legislative intent,
amendment, stare decisis doctrine)
DISSENT BY CHIEF JUSTICE JEFFERSON
The Court holds today that, “without violating the principles of stare decisis,” it may overturn very recent
precedent construing a statute. Ironically, those principles counsel just the opposite. When we observe the
time-honored tradition of adherence to precedent, particularly in statutory cases, the democratic process
generally works as intended. It worked here. The Court declared the law in Downs. Though I believed then
(and do now) that the Court’s statutory analysis was flawed, the Downs holding nevertheless bound all
litigants. It should also bind the Court. It was entirely appropriate, of course, for a subsequent Legislature to
revise the statute. But the fact that the Legislature changed the law does not alter its former validity.
Otherwise, the force of any prior decision in which we have determined statutory meaning is subject to
change, threatening the law’s stability. I would affirm the court of appeals’ judgment.
Wallace B. Jefferson
As I noted in dissent six years ago, I believe Downs was wrongly decided. Continental Casualty Co. v.
Downs, 81 S.W.3d 803, 808 (Tex. 2002) (Jefferson, J., dissenting). Echoes of my dissent ring in the Court’s
decision today, but the vindication associated with the Court’s ruling comes at too high a price. A dissent
does many things—it pinpoints perceived faults in the Court’s opinion, it speaks to a future Court, it may
suggest a legislative fix—but it is not the law. The Downs Court declared the statute’s meaning even if a
subsequent Legislature determined that it misconstrued legislative intent. A Court’s decision on statutory
construction is not infallible, but it must be final so that Texas citizens know how to conduct their affairs and
can engage the political process to modify policy that has purportedly gone awry. Such is the case here. To
continue to press a dissent after the Legislature has had occasion to change the law essentially refutes the
constitutional principle, laid down in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 178 (1803), that the Court
ultimately declares the law’s meaning.
SOUTHWESTERN BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY, L.P., D/B/A SBC TEXAS v. WILLIAM C. MITCHELL,
BENEFICIARY OF LOUISE MITCHELL, DECEDENT; from Bexar County; 4th district (04-04-00466-CV, ___
SW3d ___, 01-26-05)
The Court reverses the court of appeals' judgment and remands the case to the trial court.
Justice Hecht delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justice Wainwright, Justice Brister, Justice
Johnson, and Justice Willett joined.
Chief Justice Jefferson delivered a dissenting opinion, in which Justice O'Neill and Justice Medina joined.
(Justice Green not sitting)
Jefferson Dissent in SW Bell Telephone v. Mitchell Telephone Co. (Tex. 2008)