Born in Placentia, California on February 7, 1907, Donald R. Wright attended some of the nation's top institutions of learning on his path to becoming a prominent California lawyer and judge. After graduating from Stanford University in 1929, Wright went on to study law at Harvard, where he graduated in 1932. He passed the California bar exam in June 1933 and immediately began work for Barrick, Pool, and Knox, a Pasadena law firm, with whom he worked for the next twenty years. Wright's only respite from law came during the Second World War, while he served as an U.S. Army Air Force intelligence officer in Alaska. In 1953, California Governor Earl Warren appointed Wright to Pasadena district judge. In 1961, Los Angeles voters elected Wright to serve as a judge on the county's Superior Court, a position which he served for seven years until 1968, when Governor Ronald Reagan appointed Wright to position of Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. Wright only served in this capacity for two years before Reagan appointed him Chief Justice of the California State Supreme Court. In this position, Wright took positions counter to the wishes of his political allies, most notably his opinion striking down the death penalty in 1972 and when voters reinstated it by initiative in 1976, striking it down again. Repulsed at his stance, Reagan openly lamented ever appointing Wright to the post. Other accomplishments of the Wright court included expanding the definitions of illegally obtained evidence for criminal cases, and the prevention of police from surreptitiously posing as students in college classes to root out supposedly dissident professors. Wright retired from the court in 1977 and died at his home in Pasadena on March 21, 1985.
Scope and Content
The collection is single-item catalogued, arranged alphabetically by author then recipient. The collection's highlights include several letters from American jurists of the highest order, as well as a large group of invective-laden telegrams and letters Wright received in 1972 in regards to the California Supreme Court's decision to end capital punishment in the state. Most of the correspondence relates in some way to the California Supreme Court, most commonly letters and telegrams of congratulation on his appointment to the post of chief Justice on April 1970. The collection also includes certificates, official appointments, meeting minutes, and speeches. Notable participants include: Edmund G. Brown; Warren Burger; California Supreme Court; Alan Cranston; Los Angeles County Superior Court; Ronald Reagan; Joseph Wapner; Earl Warren. Subjects in the collections include: American Bar Association; Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; California Bar Association; California Judicial Council; California Supreme Court; capital punishment; Conference of Circuit Chiefs; William O. Douglas; Elections in California; Al Gore; Harvard Law School; Hastings College of Law; judicial reform; Charles Manson; McGeorge School of Law; municipal courts in California; National Center for State Court; Richard Nixon; Pasadena Unified School District; Presidential inaugurations; Ronald Reagan; Salvation Army; United Nations; United States Supreme Court; and Earl Warren.
The Huntington Library has additional Donald R. Wright material in the Rare Books Department including: Opinions/Justice Donald R. Wright, 1969-1977 (RB 487426 – 9 volumes) and Scrapbooks covering his judicial career, 1853-1977, 1970-1970 (RB 492765 – 2 volumes). For further information and access, contact the Rare Books Department.