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Hatton William Sumners (May 30, 1875April 19, 1962) was a Congressman from Texas from 1913—1947 and served as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Early life and career

Sumners was born near Fayetteville, Tennesseemarker on May 30, 1875. He moved to Garland, Texasmarker, near Dallasmarker in 1893. In 1895, as a 20-year-old newcomer to Dallas County, Sumners persuaded the Dallas City Attorney to let him "read law" in his office, an alternative to law school. Sumners was admitted to the bar in 1897 and commenced practice in Dallas, where he was elected prosecuting attorney of Dallas Countymarker in 1900, serving two non-consecutive terms. As prosecutor, he brought charges against gamblers in an attempt to clean up Dallas. As a result of his investigations and his campaign against drinking and vice, Sumners was not re-elected in 1902 He continued his campaign against gambling and voting irregularaties in Dallas, ultimately influencing state legislation enacted to reformthe system, after which, Sumners was elected Dallas County proscutor again. Instead of continuing in that position, he instead was elected president of the district and county attorney’s association of Texas in 1906 and 1907 where he campaigned against betting interests.

Service in Congress

Sumners ran for and was elected to an at-large seat as a Democrat to the Sixty-third Congress, taking office on March 4, 1913. He was the first of the 132 freshmen congressmen in the that Congress to get a bill through the House; the bill made Dallas a port of entry for customs. In 1914, he ran for the 5th District congressional seat which included Dallas, Ellis, Rockwall, Hill, and Bosque counties and he was elected.

Early in his career, he spoke out against the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, claiming that the bill's sponsors did not have adequate statistics to prove their case, that the bill would increase racial mob violence, and that the bill ultimately impinged on states' rights.

Sumners served on the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives and was appointed regularly to investigate allegations of corruption among federal judges, serving on the impeachment committees for three federal judges. Sumners became Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 1932, and as a loyal Democrat supported much of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. However, when the Supreme Court began invalidating key parts of the New Deal, Roosevelt proposed a plan to expand the Court, his so-called Court-packing plan was announced in 1936. As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sumners discreetly worked in opposition, but as the plan was clearly in trouble, Sumners reportedly said, "Boys, here's where I cash in my chips," referring to his waning support for the President. Ultimately, Chairman Sumners came out formally against the Court-packing plan. As a consequence of this, he faced two serious opponents in the 1938 election, but Sumners was re-elected and was not seriously challenged again. In 1946, Sumners announced he would not seek re-election.

Final years

After leaving Congress, Sumners was the Director of Research for the Southwestern Legal Foundation. Having never married, Sumners formed the The Hatton W. Sumners Foundation in 1949, which still awards loans, and scholarships to worthy students.

Sumners received an honorary doctor of laws from Southern Methodist Universitymarker and the American Bar Association Gold Medal. He died on April 19, 1962, and after services in the Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas was buried in the Knights of Pythias Cemetery in Garland.

Books authored

Sumners wrote The Private Citizen and His Democracy in 1959.


  1. Old Red Museum, Dallas County Historical Society
  2. "Filibuster Delays Anti-Lynching Bill," New York Times, January 5, 1922
  3. Congressional Biography


County district attorneys in Texas

Texas's At-large congressional districtTexas's 5th congressional district

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