A Fifth Circuit Love Story


These days when you see a story about the Fifth Circuit, the first thing you may think of is a wildly out-of-touch and backwards appellate jurisdiction not romance, but well, here we are. Valentine’s Day may be in our rearview window, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take time to appreciate when two prominent lawyers — or even better, federal judges — find true love. The story of the first ever appellate judges to marry is featured in the Houston Chronicle — complete with personalized cartoon renderings of the judges.

But the love story between Thomas Reavley and Carolyn King is far from a traditional one. The pair first met in 1979 when they were both nominated for federal appellate judgeships — they testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the same day, and were sworn in alongside one another. But they were both married to other people at the time, and it would be another 25 years before they wed.

On her deathbed, Florence Reavley told her husband to marry Carolyn King. I, for one, find that disturbing and controlling from beyond the grave, but apparently, others find it romantic. ‾_(ツ)_/‾ The Chronicle has a version of the meet-cute story that Judge Teavley has been dining out on for years:

“When I die, I want you to marry Carolyn King,” she said, referring to her husband’s colleague on the federal appeals bench.

“Well, why would I do that?” Thomas Reavley asked, jolted by the suggestion, according to the story he’s told countless times.

“Because she will take good care of you,” his wife said. “If you don’t marry Carolyn King, you’ll go to seed, you’ll be a burden to your daughters.”

See, I told you there was a lot of weirdness in the story, and to my mind, a distinct lack of romance and heaping amount of old-fashioned notions of what a woman’s role in a relationship is really like. But again, if I’ve learned anything from the continued popularity of She’s All That, it’s that one person’s creepy is another’s idyllic.

Anyway, King was not repulsed by this beyond-the-grave matchmaking, though it did take some time before the unique pick-up line found its mark:

A few months later, after the new year, the bereaved 82-year-old senior judge invited King, 65, of Houston, to lunch in Malibu, Calif. Then, on a veranda overlooking the Pacific Ocean, he trotted out the story about what his late wife had said in her final days. He’d mulled it over, he said, “and I’ve decided Florence is right.”

King, a divorced mother of three grown sons, couldn’t fathom what her old friend was saying. Reavley had a smile on his face and an air of complete confidence, King recalled.

It was a good first try, thought the chief judge of the conservative 5th Circuit. “You know, we’re doing this a little backwards,” she offered. “We might ought to talk about this a little.”

The pair married just a short while later, in the summer of 2004. The now senior status judges are in next-door chambers, that are complete with a “secret” door between them so they don’t have to brave a hallway every time they want a in-person chat with their sweetie.

King has more than made her peace with Florence’s role in her marriage. She even says a later in life romance is all the sweeter, saying, “It’s an adventure to share a life together.”

Aw, isn’t that sweet? It’s almost enough to distract you from the worrying precedent coming out of the Circuit.


headshotKathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, and host of The Jabot podcast. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).





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