Gregory Coleman, the former Texas solicitor general who argued in two of the most important U.S. Supreme Court cases in recent years, died Tuesday in a plane crash. Coleman was a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas.
A partner in the Yetter Coleman firm of Austin and Houston, Coleman was piloting a small plane that crashed in fog in Destin, Florida. The flight related to family holiday plans, and his mother-in-law and and his wife's uncle who were passengers also died in the crash.
Our sibling publication Texas Lawyer has more on the story and reaction from shocked friends and colleagues including current Texas SG James Ho, who called it a "deeply sad day."
A soft-spoken lawyer with a calm manner that worked well with the justices, Coleman, 47, argued at the high court just last month in Skinner v. Switzer, representing a Texas prosecutor in a dispute over DNA testing for a death row inmate.
But Coleman was best known for arguments in two 2009 cases, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, an important test of the Voting Rights Act, and Ricci v. DeStefano, a Connecticut affirmative action case. He won both cases in decisions that were viewed as victories for the Court's dominant conservative majority, though they were not as expansive as some conservatives hoped.
Coleman participated in The National Law Journal's annual Supreme Court review panel discussion in D.C. in 2009, soon after his victories. In the voting rights case Coleman won for his client, a small utility district, the ability to escape from federal scrutiny under the law for its election practices. But the justices did not go so far as to declare the law unconstitutional.
"A lot of commentators have asked, well, were you disappointed that you didn't get Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act struck down?" Coleman said during the NLJ discussion. "The answer is clearly no. Yes, we asked for that. I do think the argument is right, but this is the first case that the Supreme Court has had in quite some time where any part of Section 5 or the apparatus surrounding it has been challenged. Three years ago, nobody was talking about Section 5 or whether its application to various parts of the country might be unfair. People are talking about that now. There are commentators on both sides of the philosophical aisle [who] have been suggesting that Congress really ought to rethink some of what it did in 2006. Maybe it should make some changes."