Harold Barefoot Sanders, Jr., died on September 21.
Blawgletter admired Judge Sanders’s, well, judiciousness. A lot. Also his humanity and compassion. And we loved to hear that musical voice.
Barefoot Sanders embodied our ideal of a federal trial judge. Here follows his NYT obituary:
Judge Harold Barefoot Sanders, who early saw the political utility of not using his first name and went on to play significant roles in matters from the Kennedy assassination to the desegregation of Dallas schools, died Sunday in Dallas. He was 83.
His death was announced by Chief Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
As a child, Judge Sanders bridled at his colorful moniker, actually the maiden name of his grandmother Dennie Barefoot. He preferred H. B., and, as such, was crowned Freckle King at the Texas State Centennial Celebration at age 11 in 1936. Only after graduating from high school did he decide Barefoot, however odd, was a name few would forget, and he made the most of it for the rest of his life, even if it meant new acquaintances seemed always to be gazing at his feet.
Barefoot Sanders went on to become a three-term state legislator, United States attorney for the Northern District, a high official in the Justice Department and the White House during the Johnson administration who helped push the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through Congress, and a federal judge for 28 years who steered Dallas schools through the long process of desegregation.
His résumé does not convey his whole story, in part because it does not tell how close he came to achieving other things. He lost a hotly contested campaign for Congress in 1958, and another for the United States Senate in 1972. President Lyndon B. Johnson twice nominated him for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but he was knocked out the first time by a legislative technicality, and the second time when the newly elected president, Richard M. Nixon, substituted his own candidate.
Judge Sanders walked among the legends who once bestrode Texas politics, men like Johnson, Sam Rayburn, Ralph Yarborough and John B. Connally. Later, he lost elections to Republicans, as the once Democratic state moved rightward.
Mr. Sanders managed Dallas County for the Democratic ticket of Senator John F. Kennedy and Mr. Johnson in 1960. In 1963, Mr. Sanders urged President Kennedy to cancel his campaign visit to Dallas because the atmosphere was “very hostile,” The Dallas Morning News reported in 2006.
He was a few cars behind the president’s car in the fatal motorcade. After the assassination, he personally found and delivered a federal judge, Sarah T. Hughes, to swear in Johnson as president on Air Force One.
Harold Barefoot Sanders Jr. was born on Feb. 5, 1925, in a Dallas young enough for little H. B. to raise chickens in the backyard. He had plenty of freckles, but spent days in the sun to cultivate a new crop for the state-fair contest. He first used the Barefoot name to political advantage when he ran for cheerleader at the University of Texas.
He returned to the university after serving in the Navy in World War II. He was elected head cheerleader and student body president, advertising his campaigns with white stenciled drawings of feet. He graduated from the University of Texas and its law school and joined his father’s law firm in 1950.
He served three terms in the Texas House in the 1950s, then ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1958. Even though his mother made thousands of foot-shaped sugar cookies to hand out, he lost to the incumbent Republican.
After Mr. Sanders helped Kennedy win Texas, the new president appointed him federal attorney in Dallas. In 1965, Mr. Sanders joined the Justice Department in Washington, where he was in charge of all United States attorneys and marshals. He moved to the White House as legislative counsel in 1967.
He returned to private practice after Johnson’s attempt to appoint him to the Washington appeals court failed. In 1972, he challenged Senator John G. Tower, a Republican — this time throwing 200,000 of his mother’s distinctive cookies into the fray — but was buried in the Nixon landslide.
He was appointed to the federal bench in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. As a federal judge for more than a quarter-century, including being chief judge of his court from 1989 to 1995, Judge Sanders wore a gold footprint pin on his judicial robes. His cases included overseeing the Dallas school desegregation case. He made most busing voluntary, ordering the building of attractive, effective magnet schools to lure students across neighborhood boundaries.
Judge Sanders is survived by his wife, the former Jan Scurlock; a sister; a brother; 4 children; and 10 grandchildren.
The sad day of the Kennedy assassination had what was almost a bit of Keystone Kops comedy, at least in retrospect. No one could find a copy of the president’s oath of office.
“I was looking for it — I think half the federal attorneys in the country were looking for it,” Judge Sanders said in the 2006 interview with The Dallas Morning News. “We were looking in the statute books, and all the time, there it was in the Constitution, pure and simple.”
Rest in peace, Barefoot.