For all the decades of his public prominence, U.S. District Judge Samuel Hardwicke Mays has gone by the familiar name "Hardy." During the period of his private practice, from 1973 to 1995, he was referred to as "Hardy Mays," and that was the name he was known by when he served former Governor Don Sundquist, successively, as legal counsel, deputy chief of staff, and chief of staff. It is still the name he is known by to all his familiars.
After his appointment as a federal judge by former President George W. Bush to succeed the late Jerome Turner in 2002, Mays has generally been referred to as "Samuel H. Mays," and many news accounts have dropped the middle initial altogether. With all due respect, we regard that as a signal error, and, with all proper homage to whichever of the judge's ancestors might have passed on the name "Hardwicke," we think the appropriate sobriquet is still "Hardy." As an adjective, the word suggests durability, endurance, and strength, and we think this judge is loaded with all the above qualities.
A case in point is the decision which Mays handed down this week in regard to the problematic and complex issue of how the merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools should proceed. The decision was handed down in a 146-page ruling, which made an effort to cross all the T's and dot all the I's of the issue, and the degree to which Mays seems to have succeeded is best indicated by the fact that the immediate response by most of the contending litigants was to claim victory. The clichéd phrase "All have won, and all must have prizes" may have been near to fully realized by the decision.
Not everyone will be perfectly satisfied, of course, and we make full allowance for the possibility that an appeals court could overrule some or all of Judge Mays' decision. Even so, we commend Mays' conduct of the case and his painstaking way with it. Anyone who entered his courtroom during the several proceedings on the issue that took place there had to be impressed with the judge's thoroughness, even-handedness, and — not least important — good humor.
It is an interesting coincidence that Mays, who was also recently assigned the suit against the city of Memphis by public employees seeking revocation of pay cuts imposed by this year's city budget, seems to get more than his share of big cases. This is by luck of the draw, of course, but Judge Turner, Mays' immediate predecessor, also seemed to have been allocated a disproportionate number of important or landmark cases — notably, the 1991 case resulting in Turner's issuing new guidelines for municipal elections that enabled the runoff-free election of Willie Herenton as Memphis mayor and the culminating bank-fraud trial in 1993 of former Congressman Harold Ford Sr., which ended in a resounding acquittal.
Whatever it means, the Fates seem determined to entrust Hardy Mays, as they did his late predecessor, with the task of balancing the scales of justice. And balance them he has.
This week it starts in earnest — the questioning. You can't escape it. It comes from your spouse, your kids, your parents — at the breakfast table, in the car, on the phone, via email: "What do you want for Christmas?" ...