This collection contains the papers of lawyer and
California State Supreme Court judge Donald R. Wright (1907-1985), chiefly consisting of correspondence, and some documents,
dating from the 1970s.
Most of the correspondence relates in some way to the California Supreme Court, including congratulations on Wright's appointment
as Chief Justice in 1970,
as well as a large group of telegrams and letters received in regards to the Court's decision to end capital punishment in
California in 1972.
Born in Placentia, California, on February 7, 1907, Donald R. Wright (1907-1985)
attended some of the nation’s top institutions of learning on his path to becoming a
prominent California lawyer and judge. After graduating from Stanford University in
1929, Wright went on to study law at Harvard, where he graduated in 1932. He passed
the California bar exam in June 1933 and immediately began work for Barrick, Pool,
and Knox, a Pasadena law firm, with whom he worked for the next twenty years.
Wright’s only respite from law came during the Second World War, while he served as
an U.S. Army Air Force intelligence officer in Alaska. In 1953, California Governor
Earl Warren appointed Wright to Pasadena district judge. In 1961, Los Angeles voters
elected Wright to serve as a judge on the county’s Superior Court, a position which
he served for seven years until 1968, when Governor Ronald Reagan appointed Wright
to position of Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. Wright only
served in this capacity for two years before Reagan appointed him Chief Justice of
the California State Supreme Court. In this position, Wright took positions counter
to the wishes of his political allies, most notably his opinion striking down the
death penalty in 1972 and when voters reinstated it by initiative in 1976, striking
it down again. Repulsed at his stance, Reagan openly lamented ever appointing Wright
to the post. Other accomplishments of the Wright court included expanding the
definitions of illegally obtained evidence for criminal cases, and the prevention of
police from surreptitiously posing as students in college classes to root out
supposedly dissident professors. Wright retired from the court in 1977 and died at
his home in Pasadena on March 21, 1985.
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