Print this Page
Case Basics
Docket No. 
United States
Ethel May Yazell
(for the petitioner)
(for the respondent)
Facts of the Case 

After a flood, the Small Business Administration made a disaster loan to Ethel May Yazzel and her husband to cover damages to their shop. The mortgage securing the loan referred to Texas law. When the Yazzel’s defaulted on the loan, the U.S. Government sued to collect the balance due. Mrs. Yazzel moved for summary judgment on the ground that the Texas law of coverture meant the contract was not enforceable against her personally. Under the law of coverture, a woman’s legal rights are subsumed by her husband upon marriage. The Government argued that federal law, which would not recognize coverture, applied because there was an overwhelming federal interest. The district court granted summary judgment and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.


Does Federal or local Texas law apply to the loan?

Decision: 6 votes for Yazell, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision:

Texas law. In a 6-3 decision, Justice Abe Fortas wrote for the majority holding that there was no overwhelming federal interest. The Government had voluntarily negotiated the contract knowing of the references to Texas law. The Court also noted there was no federal law, regulation, or contractual provision that allowed for application of federal law in this case.

Justice John M. Harlan wrote a special concurrence stating that Texas law applied whether the contract referred to Texas law or not because the state interest in family property arrangement was greater than the federal interest. Justice Hugo L. Black wrote a dissent stating that federal law should apply because the loan was from the federal government and is, therefore, a federal matter.

Cite this Page
UNITED STATES v. YAZELL. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1965/1965_10>.
UNITED STATES v. YAZELL, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1965/1965_10 (last visited August 26, 2015).
"UNITED STATES v. YAZELL," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1965/1965_10.