Born: Thursday, March 17th, 1904
Died: Saturday, November 19th, 1983
Birthplace: Greenburg, Pennsylvania
Education: University of Michigan, B.A. (1926)
University of Washington, LL.B. (1928)
Career: Law Professor (1928-1949)
Dean, Gonzaga Law School (1945-1948)
Served: Monday, May 21st, 1951 to Thursday, May 21st, 1970
Chief Justice: Monday, January 12th, 1959 to Monday, January 9th, 1961
Political Party: Republican
Appointing Governor: Langlie (Republican)Frank Parks Weaver was born March 17, 1904 in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, a community of about 8,000 residents thirty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. He was the son of Amos Pool Weaver, a blacksmith and farrier, and Oma (Parks) Weaver. Frank attended Greensburg public schools until age sixteen, when he joined what he called a “working boys corps” at Mercersburg Academy. The first year he waited tables, and the next two he was “in charge of chapel” where he “kept the chairs straight, the hymnals in place, opened and closed the doors, and did such errands as the headmaster wished.” In 1922 Frank became the first “working boy to be graduated as president of the senior class.”
Encouraged by his uncle, Samuel Pool Weaver, Frank enrolled at the University of Michigan, intending to study law. He competed on the varsity debating team, served as head manager of the basketball squad, and won election to Phi Beta Kappa. After graduating with a degree in history, Frank took the first year of law study at the University of Michigan School of Law, then transferred to the University of Washington School of Law. By his third year there Frank gained election to the Order of Coif and was a member of law review. In 1928 he received his LL.B. and joined his uncle’s law firm in Spokane.
Although only a few months out of law school, Frank was hired as professor of law at Gonzaga Law School where he remained until 1949. He served as secretary and then dean of the school while carrying on an active private practice. The Spokane Bar Association recognized his leadership in the profession by selecting him as president in 1946.
Weaver had always been interested in politics, but more as an observer than a participant. In 1932, a disastrous year for Republicans, he was soundly thrashed running for the state legislature. It was his first and last contested race.
His efforts on behalf of Gonzaga Law School, legal acumen, bar endeavors, geography, and partisan activities all coalesced in 1951 when Governor Arthur B. Langlie appointed him to the high court. In later years he recalled the occasion:
My appointment came as a bolt of lightning. Spokane County, the second most populous, was not represented on the Court. The Spokane Bar Association thought it should be represented. I was their “fair haired boy.”
What the politics involved were, I do not know nor do I care. I had carried some “water to the elephant.” I was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1944. I was a personal friend of Thomas E. Dewey, the [presidential] nominee. He was also a friend of Governor Langlie. Whether this had anything to do with my original appointment, I do not know.
As one might expect, there was more involved in the appointment. One Monday morning the soon-to-be judge was surprised by a lead article in the Spokane Spokesman-Review advocating his appointment to the state’s high bench. He talked to his wife, Margaret, about the possible appointment. Margaret, daughter of former Governor Marion Hay, responded favorably: “When I was two years old, the voters kicked me out of Olympia in 1912. If my husband can take me back, I’m ready to go.” Weaver recalled other details of the appointment:
Having made a decision to be interested, I wrote three letters: the first to the president of the state bar association indicating my interest in being included in the recommended list to the Governor; the second letter was to Governor Langlie that if I were on the list, I would be pleased if he would consider my qualifications; the third letter was to Thomas E. Dewey in New York … I knew that he and Langlie had become good friends. I told him of my ambitions.
A few weeks later Governor Langlie offered him the job.
On May 21, 1951 Frank Weaver began a judicial career that spanned exactly nineteen years. He wrote 531 opinions covering forty volumes of the Washington Reports. Never challenged in four reelection campaigns, Weaver attributed his lack of opposition to his many years as law professor:
I had approximately 700 former law students throughout the state. They were Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Socialists, Catholics, Protestants, and agnostics but they were all in “my corner.” I would file at the earliest opportunity and within an hour we were aboard our 28′ sloop heading north to the Canadian Gulf Islands … I saw to it that the vacation was publicized. My campaign expenses for four times was $55.00-$20.00 for an ad in a local paper; the rest for stationery which I am still trying to use up.
Precedent always served as the starting point for any decision Judge Weaver rendered. But he subjected precedent to three tests. First, he evaluated the reputation of the opinion writer. Next, he consulted the legal principle “to check up on precedent.” Finally, he examined the “prospective [policy] consequences of the rule under consideration.” This was what some scholars have referred to as “the grand style,” and U. S. Supreme Court justices Holmes, Brandeis, and Frankfurter, among others, practiced it. It was a tradition of restraint mixed with the felt necessity of the times. Accordingly, Weaver insisted:
The policy making departments of state government under the constitution are the executive and legislative branches. This does not include the judiciary. The ultimate purpose of the highest appellate court in any jurisdiction is to decide the questions of law that are brought before it for decision. There are times, of course, when the policy making power must be used when the question involved is one of judicial administration and the control of the courts. When a Supreme Court goes beyond this it is in the realm of “dictum” and advisory opinions.
The theory [of stare decisis] should not be ignored. The theory is the foundation of continuity and consistency in our jurisprudence. It is necessary for our stability of the law. If precedent is clearly wrong it is wrong and not just wrong at times … If the reason for the precedential rule no longer exists by reason [of] changing social and economic conditions, the precedent should not be ignored – it should be overruled and a new rule developed that meets present conditions.
Justice Weaver refused to view the supreme court’s decisional process from a political perspective. Once conference discussions had concluded and the tentative vote been taken, “politics” ceased. Here was his theory:
When I have been assigned to write an opinion for the Supreme Court when a majority agreed tentatively with my conclusion, I became the constitutional judge to proffer a written opinion to the court for consideration.
My distribution of the opinion I wrote was not a circulating of a draft opinion; it was my offer of my decision … expressing a conclusion a majority had expressed as a tentative conclusion.
The other justices had not given up a bit of their judicial power. They still had six alternatives: (1) sign my opinion, (2) write “I concur in the results,” (3) write their own concurring opinion, (4) sign “I dissent,” (5) write their own dissent, [or] (6) sign a dissent written by another.
Choosing representative opinions from over 500 in a nineteen-year span is difficult. However, Judge Weaver had some favorites. He remembered with obvious delight the circumstances of one 1952 case, First National Bank v. Tiffany. He had been on the bench only a few months:
I recall one case written by [Tom] Grady dealing with the right of possession of land during the year of redemption after mortgage foreclosure … It was signed by a majority before it came to me, next to low man in circulation …
I had taught mortgages [at Gonzaga] for 19 years … I wrote a concurring opinion … based upon my teaching and experience and it was put in circulation starting at the top again and darned if it didn’t reach me signed also by all judges except Grady. Which opinion to file?
An en banc conference was called by the [chief justice]. It developed into a Gaston and Alphonse affair. Grady said, “I will withdraw my opinion.” “No,” I replied, “I will withdraw mine.” Every time I opened my mouth I’d get a gentle kick in the shins from long-legged [Ralph] Olson from across the table. I finally shut up and my opinion was published concurred in by all.
It was really my first important opinion and did much to establish me as fitted for the job.
Weaver also proudly remembered his opinion in Adams v. Cullen, although he did not realize its importance until more than twenty years after he penned it. After retirement, in 1980, the justice visited his daughter Sarah, a second year law student at the University of Oregon. School officials invited him to her real property class, a subject Weaver had taught for twenty-three years at Gonzaga. The class used “a new combined text-case in the American Casebook Series … The lead case to be dissected and digested [by the class] was Adams v. Cullen … written by an unknown Justice by the name of Weaver.”
Frank admitted that Adams
was not a great opinion but it did establish the law [of precedent in real estate] in Washington … But had I written it any other way I could imagine about 700 of my former students saying “That isn’t what the old goat taught me in law school.” I thought the case was buried in 1954. I was flabbergasted to find it resurrected … twenty years later in the most recent [law school] textbook and in my daughter’s class.
Weaver was not reluctant to express indignation at obvious inequities in the law and to work toward correcting them. In Pier 67 Inc. v. King County in 1970, a case dealing with the method of valuation of a leasehold interest on state- or federal-owned tax exempt land for the purpose of county taxation, he argued that “the ‘robber-barons’ leasing state owned property had been cheating the state, especially King County, out of millions [in] taxation.” He worked over a month researching, studying, writing, and rewriting to eliminate the favoritism. He admitted that: “I may have been wrong but I was not in doubt.”
Weaver’s most satisfying case was Yelle v. Kramer in 1974, four years after he officially left the bench. The case confronted the issue of whom should prevail in setting salaries of elected officials: the people through the initiative process or the legislature. Because their salary increases were at stake, the entire supreme court disqualified itself and appointed nine retired judges as the first full pro tempore supreme court in state history. Frank acted as chief justice. The dispute brought together nine devoted judges who volunteered because they felt they were needed. Judge Weaver worded it this way:
Another question that has been asked is: Why did we consent to act? … When the fire bell rings, the old horses who were put out to pasture when they were supplanted by the fire engines, stomp around. I think that spirit is in our souls also. .. I know that we all feel a deep obligation first to our state and second to the administration of justice.
His colleagues honored him by asking him to write the majority opinion. In upholding the power of the initiative process, his “grand style” became evident. In response to the contention of petitioners that constitutional restraints do not apply to initiatives, Frank displayed impatience tempered with foresight:
[We] fear, should we fail to answer the issue raised, it would be interpreted as silent approval of the bizarre theory advanced by amicus–
He and his principal would have us burke the constitution and its heretofore judicial interpretation applying to initiatives…
We reject the contention … To do otherwise would be a recognition that we have an initiative process “governed by men not by law.” Nothing in this opinion is to be interpreted as opening a Pandora’s box, releasing a runaway, uncontrolled initiative process.
Weaver regarded Yelle as a milestone because it proved that the law can resolve a highly volatile political issue: law and politics are not mutually exclusive.
Weaver gained appointment once again as pro tempore chief justice in 1982. It was his proudest moment. The occasion was the swearing-in ceremony of new members of the Washington bar, among whom was Sarah, the fifth member of the Weaver family to join the profession. Frank remembered the occasion with obvious pleasure and pride:
She stood on the same spot I stood 54 years ago when I was sworn in and on the same spot each of her [three] brothers stood when I swore them in. It was a banner day in the Weaver family history. It closed a cycle and continued an era.
Justice Weaver and his first wife, Margaret Hay, married in 1933. They had four children: Alan, Parks, Marion, and Sarah, all of whom became lawyers. Margaret Weaver died in 1963 and Justice Weaver later married Katherine Allard, who had served many years as his administrative assistant.
In May 1970, exactly nineteen years after his appointment, Weaver retired from the high bench. He had struggled with a drinking problem and friends persuaded him to leave the court before the malady affected his work. In retirement the justice moved to Lacey, near Olympia. His continued interest in the law and in politics was reflected in his reading and, as fate would have it, in his writing. His appointment as chief justice of the pro tempore court in the Yelle case prompted his recording the experience in a book published in 1980 entitled Politicians, Judges and the People. Failing health forced his move to a nearby convalescent home, where he died in 1983.
Weaver’s oral history interview is in the supreme court collection, Washington State Archives. Also see the Weaver papers, same collection; Charles Sheldon and C. Wade, “Frank Parks Weaver: A Short Biography,” Gonzaga Law Review, vol. 19 (1983-1984), pp. 219-230; Sheldon, “The Washington Supreme Court: What it was Like. Thirty Years Ago,” Gonzaga Law Review, vol. 19 (1983-1984), pp. 231-263; memorial services, Washington Reports, vol. 101, 2d (1984), pp. xxx-xxxviii; and Sheldon and Weaver, Politicians, Judges and the People (1980).
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.