John Edward Hickman, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court from 1948 to 1961, was born at Liberty Hill, Williamson County, Texas, on March 28, 1883, the son of Nathaniel Franklin and Mary J. (Porterfield) Hickman. By 1902 he had graduated from Liberty Hill Normal and Business College and taught briefly at a rural school at Hog Mountain in Bell County. Following summer study at Southwestern University, he attended the University of Texas from 1904 to 1906. After serving as principal and baseball coach at Lampasas High School, he entered the law department of the University of Texas. He graduated in 1910 and became quizmaster for the class of 1911. He practiced law briefly in Austin and then in Dublin, Texas. His wife, Ethel (Markward), died in 1921, and in 1923 he married Lena Pettit.
While practicing law at Breckenridge, Hickman was elected associate justice of the Eleventh Court of Civil Appeals at Eastland; he took office on January 4, 1927. Governor Daniel J. Moody appointed Hickman chief justice of that court on February 4, 1928. In May 1935 Hickman was appointed by the Supreme Court to Section A of the Supreme Court's Commission of Appeals. When the membership of the Supreme Court was increased to nine, Hickman and other commissioners took the oath as associate justices, on September 21, 1945. After the death of the chief justice, Governor Beauford Jester appointed Hickman to that high post, for which he qualified on January 7, 1948. In the general election of that year Hickman was elected, and he was reelected in 1954.
In 1952–53 He became the first Texas jurist to serve as chairman of the National Conference of State Chief Justices. He was awarded the Hatton W. Sumners Award for "outstanding services" by the Southwestern Legal Foundation. He was honored by many organizations and received honorary degrees from Southwestern University and Southern Methodist University; he served the latter school as a trustee after 1921. Hickman was a Methodist and taught a Sunday school class throughout his adult life. Justice Robert Calvert recorded that Hickman inaugurated the practice of full court consideration of application for writ of error so that no litigant rights would be determined by only one "section" of the court. Hickman retired from the court in 1961 and died in Austin on April 26, 1962.