John Hannah Jr. grew up in Diboll, Texas, graduating from Diboll High School in 1957. After four years in the U.S. Navy, he attended Sam Houston State University, graduating with a degree in History and English.
Hannah was elected to the Texas Legislature in 1966 and served three terms representing Angelina, Trinity, San Jacinto, and Polk counties. He was a member of the legendary "Dirty Thirty" group of House members who eventually forced the investigation of the Speaker of the House and others in the Sharpstown Bank scandal.
Hannah attended South Texas College of Law while serving in the Legislature. After being licensed to practice law in 1971, he was elected district attorney for Angelina County, serving from 1973 to 1975. In 1975, Hannah resigned as District Attorney to become legal counsel for the public interest group Common Cause, where he was active in preventing the crippling of the Open Meetings Act, the Lobby Control Act, and other reform laws.
In 1977, Hannah was appointed United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas by President Jimmy Carter.
From 1982 until 1991, Hannah was in the private practice of law, handling both civil and criminal cases. He was active in the Bar, serving on several committees, including a special committee to rewrite the Code of Ethical Conduct for attorneys.
Hannah was appointed Secretary of State by Governor Ann Richards the on the day she was inaugurated, January 15, 1991. Other than his constitutional and statutory duties, he was assigned many special projects by the Governor, including passing new ethics laws for state officials.
Hannah was appointed by President Bill Clinton to be a United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Texas and confirmed by the United States Senate on March 10, 1994. He was sworn in on March 11, 1994. In June, 2001, Hannah was elevated to Chief Judge for the Eastern District of Texas.
Hannah died on December 4, 2003 after suffering an apparent heart attack. The 64-year-old Chief Judge was attending a conference in West Palm, Beach, Florida. Judge Hannah's wife, U.S. Magistrate Judith Guthrie, was with her husband at the time of his death.
Known for his compassion, his brilliance, his tenacity, and his commitment to God, country, and family, Hannah left behind many who grieved his death. One of his many friends was retired State District Judge Gerald Goodwin, who first met Hannah in 1969, while in law school. Goodwin worked under Hannah as Assistant Angelina County District Attorney in 1974, and then took over as D.A. when Hannah resigned. Throughout his career, Goodwin said, "Hannah was a man of honesty and integrity."