Born: Saturday, May 29th, 1915
Died: Tuesday, December 1st, 1992
Birthplace: Prosser, Washington
Education: Central Washington College, B.A. (1938)
Washington State College, (1940-1942)
University of Washington, LL.B. (1948)
Career: Superior Court (1961-1963; 1982-1985)
U.S. Congress (1965-1977)
Served: Monday, January 10th, 1977 to Sunday, January 17th, 1982Floyd V. Hicks began his public career as a superior court judge, served in Congress, was elected to the supreme court and, coming full circle, returned to his old position as superior court judge. Of course, much transpired in the interim.
Hicks was born and grew up in Prosser in eastern Washington, graduating from high school there in 1932. He matriculated to Central Washington College of Education in Ellensburg, completing an education degree in 1938. He taught and coached basketball at Wapato, Lacey, St. Johns, and Snohomish high schools while taking advanced work in education at Washington State College. In 1942, he enlisted as a private in the U. S. Army Air Corps, being discharged with the rank of captain in 1946. With the help of the G. I. Bill, he entered the University of Washington School of Law in 1946, graduating with an LL.B. two years later.
Hicks practiced law in Tacoma for thirteen years, first with Don Eastvold, who later became Washington Attorney General, and then with William Goodwin, later appointed to the federal bench. He accepted appointment to the Pierce County Superior Court in 1961, returning to private practice two years later. Elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1965, he served until 1977, the same year he won election to the state supreme court. He resigned from the high bench in 1982 to accept an appointment to the superior court bench, from which he retired in 1985.
What appears to be a rapid succession of career changes was often dictated by serendipitous factors. For example, Governor Albert Rosellini and Senator Henry Jackson persuaded him to run for Congress from the Sixth Congressional District in order to fill out the Democratic ticket. Hicks, assuming he stood little chance of winning against long-time incumbent Thor Tollefson, saw the campaign as a way to establish his Democratic credentials for possible appointment to the state or federal benches. He also felt an obligation to the party and to the governor for his earlier superior court appointment. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to find anyone else to be the sacrificial lamb,” he later said. To everyone’s surprise, he won the 1964 election and reluctantly moved to Washington, D. C. In his words, “I was running to fill the ticket and lightening struck.” Governor Rosellini remembered that Hicks “ran an easy-going campaign and he won. Nobody was more surprised than he was, unless it was me. Another case of the politics of reluctance.”
Congressman Hicks developed a reputation for party loyalty, support for moderately liberal causes, and hard work. The six foot, two inch white-haired Westerner became a favorite of reporters covering Congress because of his candid, often blunt responses to questions. He was a strong player on the Henry Jackson – Warren Magnuson Democratic team. Before he left Congress he became a member of the Armed Services Committee and chaired the subcommittee on manpower and housing of the Government Operations Committee. His voting record earned him a favorable rating with the liberal Americans for Democratic Action and a poor score with the conservative Americans for Constitutional Action. Praised by environmental groups and labor organizations, he still never felt quite at home in the nation’s capital. Congressman Hicks hinted several times he would not seek reelection, and on June 26, 1975, announced he would not run again.
When Justice Robert Hunter resigned from the state supreme court in 1976, Hicks decided to run for the post. He faced court of appeals judge Keith Callow. Hicks had not fully recovered from a nervous disorder that caused dizziness and left him unable to walk without assistance. He had lost several pounds and admitted he looked like “death warmed over.” He made only one trip to the state, speaking to a teachers’ group, believing it wiser to conduct his campaign from Washington, D. C. He relied on support from fellow congressmen, name familiarity, and television commercials. Although the state bar overwhelmingly supported Callow, Hicks gained important assistance from the Democratic party and labor organizations, and had ample funds. Without much effort, he defeated Callow in the September primary.
Many observers anticipated the new justice would continue to follow his liberal congressional voting behavior. But Hicks developed a reputation as a middle-of-the-road judge with slightly activist leanings. Concerned that the court had become too lenient in considering criminal appeals, he also believed the justices should continue to protect if not expand civil rights, and go slow regarding changes in tort precedents. Because of his moderate views and abilities at persuasion, Justice Hicks had a decisive impact on court deliberations.
He dissented only in about ten percent of cases, below the court average. He felt dissents had two purposes: to “be on record on [particular] viewpoints” and to attempt to pick up another vote. He agreed most often with his eastern Washington counterpart, moderate Justice William Williams. Between them, they had a moderating influence on a court split fairly evenly between liberals and conservatives.
Although he felt a considerable need to “catch up” with the law and “judging,” Justice Hicks was pleased to be back on the bench:
I feel so much more comfortable than I did in Congress. I never felt that I ever had completely learned what I ought to know as things went on down there. You were dependent on someone else’s advice on how you were going to vote on this or that. Of course, when I was in law practice and when you had a case you were going to [appeal], you felt you knew everything there was to know about the thing, and you were comfortable with it. Now its back to that same situation … I find that I’m having to work longer than I care to, [but] … I’m enjoying [it] really immensely. I have a great sense of satisfaction so far… I’m really pleased to be on the court.
Two problems, however, confronted the outspoken but easy-going justice. First, the heavy reading requirements in reviewing case briefs, trial records, and draft opinions became a burden. He had developed cataracts in both eyes and an operation only partially corrected one. Also, while commuting from Tacoma to Olympia he had been in two fatal accidents on the crowded 1-5 freeway, neither caused by his negligence. He considered resigning from the court.
Judge Robert A. Jacques of the Pierce County Superior Court announced his retirement late in 1982, prompting Justice Hicks to contact Republican Governor John Spellman about possible appointment to the trial bench. “I liked the work [at the supreme court] very much,” he recalled, “but it was in my best interest [to seek the superior court appointment]. I wanted to keep on working. It will be better for me and for my family.” The governor agreed, and on November 20, 1982, at the age of sixty-six, Hicks returned to the same bench from which he had launched his political career twenty years earlier. Spellman, responding to criticism that he had appointed a Democrat, said, “Here is a man who was elected to Congress in that district, well regarded by his colleagues … and who says he would like to give up commuting and serve on the superior court.” Besides, the move would allow the governor to appoint someone of his own choice and political affiliation to the state supreme court. Judge Hicks carried his full load of cases on the Pierce County bench and retired from public life in 1985.
Hicks and Norma Jeanne Zintheo of Olympia married in 1942 and had two daughters, Tracie and Betsie. The judge held membership in the Kiwanis and served as president of the Parkland, Washington, group. He was also president of the Parkland Parent Teacher Association and was a member of the Parkland Sewer Commission.
See the Hicks oral history interview in the supreme court collection, Washington State Archives. Also see Prosser Record Bulletin, 1 Sept. 1977; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 29 Nov. 1981; Tacoma News Tribune, 21 Nov. 1981; and Charles Sheldon, A Century of Judging: A Political History of the Washington Supreme Court (1988), pp. 305-334.
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.