1904: Clay May, the Railroad, and Justice Holmes

in A Community Built on Words

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780226677231
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226677224 | DOI:
1904: Clay May, the Railroad, and Justice Holmes

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In 1901 the Texas legislature enacted a law related to Johnson grass and Russian thistle, fast-spreading weeds that, if allowed to go unchecked, pose a threat to various cash crops. The statute provided for a penalty of $25 for allowing either plant to go to seed on one's property, recoverable by owners of contiguous plots of land as long as they were not guilty of the same fault. The law did not apply to all landowners, however: only railroad companies were subject to the penalty. A couple of years later, Clay May of Bell County, Texas, having noticed Johnson grass growing on an adjacent roadbed belonging to the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company, took the railroad to court and, apparently being a careful farmer with no Johnson grass on his land, obtained a judgment for the $25 penalty from the county court. The railroad, perhaps concerned about how many potential Clay Mays owned land adjoining its property, decided to appeal the case on federal constitutional grounds, and the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Keywords: Texas legislature; Johnson grass; Russian thistle; landowners; railroad companies; Clay May of Bell County

Chapter.  3168 words. 

Subjects: Constitutional and Administrative Law

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