The adage “once a teacher, always a teacher” best describes Justice Batjer’s life. The native Nevadan son of a pioneer family, and son of a teacher, Justice Batjer instructed people in how to live their lives through example and by embodying a fair-minded application of the rule of law.
Born August 24, 1919, on his grandparents’ “McVicar Ranch,” in Smith Valley, Nevada, Cameron McVicar Batjer grew up in a tight- knit ranching family with extended relatives up and down the dirt road. These relatives were a resource when his mother, Mary Belle “Mabel” Batjer, was away teaching in nearby towns, often with her two young daughters in tow. It is easy to envision a Norman Rockwell scene of a family ranch, everyone pitching in with cattle herding and some “buckarooing,” something Justice Batjer points out was not his forte.
A gifted storyteller, Justice Batjer recounts tales of rural American life in the 1920s, the Great Depression, and World War II. His childhood and youth were filled with the ranch, family, friends, school, baseball, and school socials—all of which led to college at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), teaching in rural Nevada schools, and law school at the University of Utah.
Smith Valley was small but forward-thinking, and the desire for knowledge was embedded early; Justice Batjer speaks fondly and appreciatively of his early teachers, especially his mother. One of his earliest friends, Mary Arentz, was the daughter of the U.S. Representative for Nevada At Large, Samuel Arentz—a connection that opened Smith Valley to the larger world. Justice Batjer’s recollections of an early trip to Reno and the impression the larger town made on him reveal that he was not destined to be a rural rancher.
UNR was a natural place for college and where Batjer met his future wife, Lura Gamble, also to become a teacher. They met at a social event, and married soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the course of their long marriage, they had three daughters who now own the McVicar family ranch.
Batjer’s military service began in the Navy Seabees construction force and segued into service on Gen. Douglas McArthur’s staff— an honor for a newly-commissioned ensign. After service in World War II, he returned to teach school in McGill, Fernley, and Carson City.
Deciding against teaching as a career, Batjer went to law school in Utah. After graduating and passing the Utah bar, he worked as staff counsel for the Utah State Senate, returning to Nevada to teach while waiting to take the Nevada bar examination. Like the cinematic figure Mr. Smith, he went to Washington, D.C. to work for Nevada U.S. Senator “Molly” Malone. Returning to Nevada, he served as deputy district attorney and then district attorney for Ormsby County (Carson City). In 1967, then-Governor Paul Laxalt appointed Justice Batjer to the Nevada Supreme Court. He arrived at a time of dynamic growth in Nevada, as the court was increased from three to five members.
Justice Batjer’s experiences with college, marriage, teaching, military service, law school in Utah, and into the practice of law appear effortless as if one phase of life naturally flowed into another. Whether reading or listening to this oral history, the reader will be struck by his intelligence, humility, pragmatism, and gentle humor.
Justice Batjer left the praise-making to others. After his death in 2011, his colleagues eulogized him for having “an even-handed temperament . . . [that] will be missed in today’s partisan world” (Chief Justice Michael Douglas), and for being a “great scholar and jurist who understood the virtue of brevity, common sense and kindness” (Justice Kristina Pickering). Former Nevada U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt, who appointed Justice Batjer to the court, summed the man up as a “native Nevadan who possessed classic Nevada values. . . self-reliance, perseverance and compassion.”
For readers who are interested in examining the unaltered records, copies of the recorded interviews are available at the Special Collections department of the UNR Library.
Brad Lucas conducted interviews with Nevada Supreme Court Justice Cameron McVicar Batjer during November and December 2002 at Batjer’s home in Reno, Nevada, as part of the Nevada Legal Oral History Project, a joint effort of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society (NJCHS), the Nevada Judicial Historical Society (NJHS), and the UNOHP. Begun in 2001, the project was intended to record the life stories of leading members of Nevada’s legal profession and to educate the public about law and the courts by making those stories widely available through various media.
Members of the boards of NJHS and NJCHS compiled and vetted lists of potential narrators, ultimately selecting representatives from both the state and federal benches and bars. The UNOHP, under the direction of Tom King and his successor Mary Larson, recommended interviewers, most of whom were professional oral historians, and donated equipment and transcription services. Brad Williams, of NJCHS, coordinated the project from its inception. Susan Southwick, of NJHS, oversaw that group’s participation. Patricia Cooper-Smith completed the copyediting and introductions. Alicia Barber, Director of the UNOHP since 2009, supervised the project’s final publication and dissemination. The project was made possible by a generous challenge grant from the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust, with matching funds provided by the U.S. District Court for Nevada Attorney Admissions Fund, the Washoe County Courthouse Preservation Fund, and the Nevada State Bar. Thanks go to Susan Southwick and the Board of Trustees of NJHS, and Brad Lucas, who interviewed Justice Batjer.
Interviewee: Cameron M. Batjer
Interviewer: Brad Lucas
UNOHP Catalog #222
This introduction is reprinted with permission from the University of Nevada Oral History Archive, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno. The full oral history transcript was created for the Nevada Legal Oral History Project. Click here for the full oral history transcript.
None at this time.