updated 9/16/2004 4:43:42 PM ET 2004-09-16T20:43:42

Wallace B. Jefferson, a descendant of slaves and the first black member of the Texas Supreme Court, became the court’s first black chief justice Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Jefferson to replace Tom Phillips, who stepped down earlier this month after nearly 17 years as chief justice to become a law professor in Houston.

“I am deeply honored to accept this appointment,” said Jefferson, accompanied by his parents, wife and three young sons.

Asked about the historic significance of his selection, he said: “There’s very little that stands in our way if we prepare ourselves. There’s no limits to what this country will allow you to do.”

Perry’s appointment of Jefferson is subject to approval by the Texas Senate after it convenes in January for its regular biennial session, but Jefferson will hold the job in the meantime.
“I believe no one is more prepared to lead this court as it renders decisions of extreme importance to a great many Texans,” the Republican governor said.

Jefferson, 41, of San Antonio, is among the nine-member court’s more conservative members. After being appointed to the court to fill a vacancy in 2001, he was elected to a full four-year term the following year.

Jefferson told of being the great-great-great grandson of a freed slave in Waco who went on to become a post-Civil War city councilman, and said that dwarfed the magnitude of his new appointment.

“If he can do that, there is very little that can hold me back or my sons,” he said.
Eleven other states, including six others in the former Confederacy, have had a black chief justice.

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