Richard Rives

Richard Taylor Rives (January 15, 1895 – October 27, 1982) was an American lawyer and judge. A native of Alabama, he was the sole Democrat among the "Fifth Circuit Four," four United States Circuit Judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the 1950s and 1960s that issued a series of decisions crucial in advancing the civil and political rights of African-Americans.[1] At that time, the Fifth Circuit included not only Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas (its current jurisdiction), but also Alabama, Georgia, and Florida (which were subsequently split off into the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit), and the Panama Canal Zone.

Richard Rives
Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
In office
October 1, 1981 – October 27, 1982
Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
In office
February 15, 1966 – October 1, 1981
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
In office
Preceded byJoseph Chappell Hutcheson Jr.
Succeeded byElbert Tuttle
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
In office
May 3, 1951 – February 15, 1966
Appointed byHarry S. Truman
Preceded byLeon Clarence McCord
Succeeded byJohn Cooper Godbold
Personal details
Richard Taylor Rives

(1895-01-15)January 15, 1895
Montgomery, Alabama
DiedOctober 27, 1982(1982-10-27) (aged 87)
Montgomery, Alabama
Resting placeGreenwood Cemetery
Montgomery, Alabama
Political partyDemocratic
RelativesCallie V. Granade
EducationTulane University
Reading law


He is a descendant of Robert Ryves (Reve) of Dorset. [2]

Early and family lifeEdit

Born in Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama on January 15, 1895, to William Henry Rives (1854-1922) and his wife, the former Alice Bloodworth Taylor (1856-1943), Rives had five siblings. A maternal great-great-grandfather had served as the first Baptist minister in Montgomery. Three of his great-great-great-great grandfathers had served in the American Revolutionary War: Captain William Sanford (1734-1806) had carried dispatches to France before settling in Georgia, Major John Mason (1716-1785) had acted as Justice of Sussex County, Virginia during that time, and Private James McLemore (1718-1800) had also served the Revolutionary cause in Granville County, North Carolina.[3] Both sides of his family had operated large plantations using enslaved labor before the American Civil War.[4]

Rives attended the public high school in Montgomery and graduated as valedictorian of his class. He then won a tuition scholarship and began studies at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. However, Rives also had to borrow money for living expenses from his sister, so he withdrew from the university after a year and began working for Wiley Hill, an attorney practicing in Montgomery whose family plantation had shared a border with the Rives' plantation before the American Civil War. Rives would later receive honorary degrees from the University of Notre Dame in 1966 and Cumberland Law School at Samford University in 1975.[5]

Early career, military service and family lifeEdit

After reading law, Rives passed the Alabama bar examination in 1914, although just 19 years old. He was in private practice in Montgomery, Alabama from 1914 to 1916.[6] During World War I, Rives joined the Alabama National Guard, then served in the United States Army (1916 to 1919; commissioned a first lieutenant in 1917).[6] While stationed in Macon, Georgia, Rives met Jessie H. Daugherty. They married soon after he left the Army, and would have four children, although two died as infants.[4] Rives's relationship with his son and namesake Richard Rives Jr. (1922-1949) would later greatly affect his attitudes toward racial discrimination. His son had attended the University of Exeter in England and Harvard University in Massachusetts, then become severely ill while serving in the Pacific theater during World War II. Based on his own reading and discussions with African American soldiers hospitalized with him, the younger Rives determined to confront issues involved in what many Southerners called "the race question." He also went to the University of Michigan Law school, advised his father to read Gunnar Myrdal's treatise and planned to join the family law firm, but died in an auto accident in 1949. After his wife's death in 1973, Rives in 1976 married Martha Blake Thigpen Frazer, but they had no children.[4]


In 1919 Rives returned to private practice in Montgomery after his World War I service, and became involved in politics and the Democratic Party during the New Deal. He directed the 1942 gubernatorial campaign of Bibb Graves, who died before the election.[4] Rives served as president of both the Montgomery County and state bar associations. In 1951, he successfully appeared before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the Alabama Public Service Commission, and the court reversed a lower federal court's ruling that had allowed the Southern Railway Company to discontinue much local service in the state, deciding such was a state rather than federal matter.[4] He was a close friend of United States Senator then Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, as well as of Alabama Senators John Sparkman and Lister Hill.[4]

Federal judicial serviceEdit

Rives was nominated by President Harry S. Truman on April 12, 1951, to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated by Judge Leon Clarence McCord. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 1, 1951, and received his commission on May 3, 1951. He served as Chief Judge and as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 1959 to 1960. He assumed senior status on February 15, 1966. Rives was reassigned by operation of law to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on October 1, 1981, pursuant to 94 Stat. 1994. His service terminated on October 27, 1982, due to his death.[6]

Civil rights casesEdit

The Fifth Circuit supervised federal district judges in six southern states. By the time of the United States Supreme Court rulings concerning desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education, the other judges had all been appointed by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower: Elbert P. Tuttle of Atlanta, Georgia, John Minor Wisdom of New Orleans, Louisiana, and John Robert Brown of Houston, Texas. All shared a quiet passion against injustice.[5] Rives and his colleagues became actively involved in racial desegregation after state officials became involved in Massive Resistance. He also became involved in cases concerning bus desegregation, legislative redistricting and jury selection.[4]

Death and legacyEdit

Rives died at home in Montgomery, age 87 on October 27, 1982 after a long illness.[5] He was survived by his second wife, daughter Callie Rives Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, and three granddaughters, and buried in Montgomery's Greenwood Cemetery.[7]

Rive's granddaughter, United States District Judge Callie V. Granade, of the Southern District of Alabama. Granade struck down Alabama's prohibition on same-sex marriage, a decision eventually affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.[8][9][10]

See alsoEdit

Jack Bass, Unlikely Heroes Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1981.


  1. ^ Jack Bass, "The 'Fifth Circuit Four'", The Nation, May 3, 2004, p. 30-32.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Sons of American Revolution application of Thom Christopher Rives in 1941
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Richard T. Rives - Encyclopedia of Alabama". Encyclopedia of Alabama.
  5. ^ a b c "Richard T. Rives, Judge on Court That Helped Integrate the South". 30 October 1982 – via
  6. ^ a b c "Rives, Richard Taylor - Federal Judicial Center".
  7. ^ "Judge Richard Taylor Rives (1895-1982) - Find A..."
  8. ^ Kirby, Brendan (January 23, 2015). "Federal judge strikes down Alabama's same-sex marriage ban". Retrieved April 28, 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "Same-sex marriage to begin in Alabama as federal court affirms end of ban". The Guardian (UK). February 3, 2015. Retrieved April 27, 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ de Vogue, Ariane; Diamond, Jeremy (June 27, 2015). "Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide". CNN. Retrieved April 27, 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
Legal offices
Preceded by
Leon Clarence McCord
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Succeeded by
John Cooper Godbold
Preceded by
Joseph Chappell Hutcheson Jr.
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Succeeded by
Elbert Tuttle