Born: Saturday, July 2nd, 1881
Died: Wednesday, February 15th, 1956
Birthplace: Hampton, Iowa
Education: University of Iowa, LL.B. (1905)
Career: Prosecuting Attorney (1913-1917; 1920-1921)
Assistant Attorney General (1922-1923)
Superior Court (1923-1939)
Served: Monday, January 9th, 1939 to Monday, August 8th, 1949
Chief Justice: Monday, January 10th, 1949 to Monday, August 8th, 1949
Political Party: RepublicanClyde Garfield Jeffers was born on a farm near Hampton, a small community in north-central Iowa. His mother died when Clyde was twelve years old and he lived with his grandmother while finishing Hampton High School. His brother, Lyle, attended the University of Iowa and paid Clyde’s tuition to study law there. Clyde maintained high scholastic standards, belonged to Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and was an outstanding two-miler for the university track team. In 1905 he graduated with an LL.B., gaining admittance to the Iowa bar the same year.
Jeffers practiced law for a short time in Iowa. Failing health prompted his move to Santa Monica, California, in 1907 and then to Arizona, where he remained until 1908. That year he moved to Spokane to practice with Judge Warren W. Tolman. In 1910 Jeffers moved to Wilson Creek, Washington, and shared an office with attorney C. J. Lambert until being elected prosecuting attorney for Grant County. He served two terms, 1913-1917, then resumed private practice in Ephrata. He was again elected prosecuting attorney in 1920, a post he held for a year before resigning to serve as assistant attorney general at the state capital. Governor Louis F. Hart appointed him to the superior court of Grant-Douglas counties in 1923 and he won election the next year and reelection four subsequent terms until he moved to the supreme court in 1939.
Both as an attorney and visiting superior court judge, Jeffers practiced or presided over trials throughout the state. He also served as president of the Superior Court Judges’ Association. Although he came from a sparsely populated area, his statewide reputation permitted him to survive a close contest for the supreme court involving five candidates in the 1938 primary. He received the endorsement of retiring Judge O. R. Holcomb as well as substantial support from the legal profession. In the November balloting he defeated Ernest M. Card by nearly 60,000 votes. In 1944 he ran unopposed for another term on the high bench.
Judge Jeffers was a careful and detailed student of the law. His lengthy opinions went beyond simple explanation of the law in a particular case to record the evolution of that law. In cases involving constitutional questions he would often describe the dilemma confronting the court. For example, in Livingston v. Ayer he reported on the difficulties of exercising judicial review:
In approaching this question, we are mindful of the rule as to the presumption of constitutionality of legislative acts, and we are also mindful that it is not within the province of a court to question the wisdom of a legislative act. But we also have in mind the fact that when it becomes the duty of this court to pass upon the constitutionality of an act of the legislature, we must determine whether or not such act does in fact violate some provision of the constitution; … if the court performs its full duty, it will not shut its eyes to obvious facts which would compel a conclusion that the act is unconstitutional … [rather than declare] the act … constitutional upon the mere presumption of constitutionality, or upon the rule that we cannot question the wisdom of the legislature in passing the act, or upon some declared policy or purpose contained in the act, which policy or purpose cannot be substantiated.
Judge Jeffers tended to determine that challenged laws normally did not violate some provision of the constitution. He was indeed a judicial restraintist. In his view a judge should not question legislative motives. Neither should he allow public policy considerations to color his decisions. Law clerks and experienced appellate attorneys viewed Jeffers as leaning decisively to the right in those cases lending themselves to either a liberal or conservative judicial response.
Judge Jeffers’s fragile health always threatened to limit his judicial activities, but he served ten years on the state’s high court. After suffering several heart attacks, he announced his retirement in July 1949.
Jeffers served as president of the Ephrata Chamber of Commerce, grand master of his Masonic Lodge, and belonged to the Elks. A deeply religious person, Judge Jeffers also served as an elder of the Presbyterian Church in Ephrata. In 1908 he married his childhood sweetheart, Ruth Nye of Spokane, who passed away in 1930. They had three daughters, Elizabeth, Jean, and Josephine, and two sons, Richard and Donald. The judge married Garnette Robinson of Chehalis in 1935. They remained in Olympia after his retirement in 1949. Jeffers died in 1956.
Memorial services, Washington Reports, vol. 50, 2d (1957), pp. xxx-xxxv; Seattle Times, 7 Aug. 1949; Lloyd Spencer and Lancaster Pollard, A History of the State of Washington, vol. 3 (1937), p. 47; C. W. Taylor, Eminent Judges and Lawyers of the Northwest (1954), p. 382.
The preceding biography is from Charles Sheldon's The Washington High Bench: A Biographical History of the State Supreme Court, 1889-1991, © 1992 by the Board of Regents of Washington State University. Reprinted here with permission and licensed to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License by The Temple of Justice Project.