William Wayne Justice

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William Wayne Justice (February 25, 1920 – October 13, 2009) was an American jurist. He served as a United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Texas and a Senior United States District Judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Early life[edit]

Justice was born in 1920 in Athens, Texas. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas, graduating from its School of Law in 1942. He joined the U.S. Army and served in India during World War II. In 1946, he began practicing law in Athens with his father, who was known as a voice for the disadvantaged. After serving as City Attorney in Athens for eight years, Judge Justice was selected by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, sitting in Tyler. Judge Justice took senior status in 1998 and later sat by designation in the Western District of Texas.

Legal career[edit]

Justice was appointed to the federal bench by President Lyndon B. Johnson. He worked throughout his life to protect civil rights, uphold constitutional freedoms, and ensure equal justice for all. His public service earned awards and recognition, and the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of Texas at Austin honors his name and career. His landmark rulings have safeguarded the rights of minorities, the poor, and the politically powerless in many areas. These decisions addressed race discrimination in schools and housing, inhumane treatment in public facilities, the dilution of voting rights, inadequate education for immigrant and non-English speaking children, and the unnecessary institutionalization of the mentally retarded.[1]

Although his career on the bench was a long and distinguished one, Justice was best known for Ruiz v. Estelle and United States v. Texas.

In November 1970, Justice notably ordered the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to desegregate its schools in United States v. Texas, which is regarded as one of the most extensive desegregation orders in legal history as it encompassed over a thousand school districts and nearly two million students.[2] It was upheld by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.[3] At that time, many schools in Texas, particularly those in East Texas, remained segregated and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) referred the matter to the Department of Justice as it had limited powers to enforce desegregation laws. According to the Texas State Historical Association, Justice's "decision detailing how integration was to occur quickly captured the attention of both public school officials and top state policymakers."[4]

In 1972, Texas prison inmate David Ruiz filed a fifteen page handwritten civil rights complaint alleging he was confined under unconstitutional conditions, harassed by prison officials, given inadequate medical care, and subjected to unlawful solitary confinement. His complaint was combined with others to become a class action suit (Ruiz v. Estelle, 550 F.2d 238). The trial, which began in October 1978, lasted a year. In a 118-page, 1979 decision,[5] Judge Justice ruled that the conditions of imprisonment within the TDC prison system constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the United States Constitution.[6] The decision led to federal oversight of the system, with a prison construction boom and "sweeping reforms ... that fundamentally changed how Texas prisons operated."[7]

Honors and recognition[edit]

In 2004, the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law was established in his honor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. The Justice Center promotes equal justice for all through legal education, scholarship and public service.[8]

On November 16, 2006, Justice received the first "Morris Dees Justice Award" given annually to a lawyer who has devoted his career to serving the public interest and pursuing justice, and whose work has brought about positive change in the community, state, or nation. It was created by the international law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and The University of Alabama School of Law to honor Morris Dees for his lifelong devotion to public service. Dees, who is co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, presented the award at a ceremony in Skadden offices in New York City.[9][10]

Judge Justice's tombstone at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas

Justice died on October 13, 2009, in Austin.[11] Though Governor William Perry Clements, Jr., had frequently quarreled with Justice, Bill Hobby, the Democrat from Houston and the lieutenant governor under both of Clements' nonconsecutive terms, lauded the judge: "Judge Justice dragged Texas into the 20th century. God bless him. He was very unpopular, but he was doing the right thing."[12]

Other notable cases[edit]

  • Montgomery v. White, 320 F. Supp. 303 (E.D. Tex. 1969)
  • Roper v. Beto, 318 F. Supp. 662 (E.D. Tex. 1970)
  • United States v. Texas, 321 F. Supp. 1043 (E.D. Tex. 1970), supplemented by 330 F. Supp. 235 (E.D. Tex. 1971)
  • Duke v. North Texas State University, 338 F. Supp. 990 (E.D. Tex. 1971)
  • McGuire v. Roebuck, 347 F. Supp. 1111 (E.D. Tex. 1972)
  • Graves v. Barnes, 343 F. Supp. 704 (W.D. Tex. 1972)
  • Morales v. Turman, 383 F. Supp. 53 (E.D. Tex. 1974)
  • United States v. Hall, 468 F. Supp. 123 (E.D. Tex. 1979)
  • Wells v. Hutchinson, 499 F. Supp. 174 (E.D. Tex. 1980)
  • Jones v. Latexo Independent School District, 499 F. Supp. 223 (E.D. Tex. 1980)
  • Young v. Pierce, 544 F. Supp. 1010 (E.D. Tex. 1982)
  • Lelsz v. Kavanagh, 98 F.R.D. 11 (E.D. Tex. 1982)
  • Nash v. Texas, 632 F. Supp. 951 (E.D. Tex. 1986)
  • Young v. Pierce, 640 F. Supp. 1476 (E.D. Tex. 1986)
  • Texans Against Censorship, Inc. v. State Bar of Texas, 888 F. Supp. 1328 (E.D. Tex. 1995)
  • Ruiz v. Johnson, 37 F. Supp. 2d 855 (S.D. Tex. 1999)
  • Frew v. Gilbert, 109 F. Supp. 2d 579 (E.D. Tex. 2000)
  • Frew v. Hawkins, 401 F. Supp. 2d 619 (E.D. Tex. 2005)

Publications in his honor[edit]

  • Blais, Lynn E. "William Wayne Justice: The Life of the Law." Texas Law Review 77.1 (Nov. 1998): 1-7.
  • "Dedication and Tributes. Judge William Wayne Justice." Annual Survey of American Law 1986 (Apr. 1987): vii-xx.
  • Dubose, Louis. "A Texas ‘Advocate for Justice.'" The Nation 13 November 2000: 20-22.
  • Elliot, Janet. "Justice Recognized for a Career built on Seminal Cases." Houston Chronicle 4 December 2006.
  • Gamino, Denise. "High-profile Justice Hitting Trail to Austin." The Austin-American Statesman 25 May 1998: A1.
  • Hall, Michael. "Justice Is Not Done." Texas Monthly, October 2006.
  • Hood, Lucy. "Educating Immigrant Students." Carnegie Reporter 4.2 (Spring 2007).
  • Ivins, Molly. "Texas-size Void Left with Exodus of Judge Justice." The Fresno Bee, 13 May 1998: B7.
  • Jackson, Bruce. "Texas Prisons Go On Trial." The Nation 28 October 1978: 437-9.
  • Kemerer, Frank R. William Wayne Justice: A Judicial Biography. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.
  • Klimko, Frank, and Evan Moore. "'Czar of Texas'/William Wayne Justice Takes Heavy Criticism with Grace." The Houston Chronicle 11 January 1987: 1.
  • Maraniss, David. "Justice, Texas Style." The Washington Post 28 February 1987: G1.
  • Martin, Steve J. Texas Prisons: The Walls Came Tumbling Down. Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1987.
  • Mithoff, Richard. "William Wayne Justice: Blessed by the Gifts of This Judicial Giant." The Houston Chronicle 15 November 1998: 1.
  • Mithoff, Richard Warren. "A Tribute to Justice." Texas Law Review 77.9 (November 1998): 9-12.
  • Politz, Henry A. "Judge Justice." Texas Law Review 77.13 (November 1998): 13-15.
  • Vara-Orta, Francisco. "'Activist' Judge Still Battling Injustice." Austin American-Statesman 12 August 2006: 1.
  • Walt, Kathy. "Judge Justice Left Footprints on Host of Social Reforms." The Houston Chronicle 8 February 1998: 1.
  • Ward, Mike. "Judge Says Reforms Worked For Awhile [sic]." Austin American-Statesman 6 May 2007: A7.
  • Ward, Mike. "Prisons Lawsuit Drawing to Close." Austin American-Statesman 8 June 2002:1

Scholarly publications[edit]

  • "Address: The Origins of Ruiz v. Estelle." Stanford Law Review 43 (November 1990): 1-12.
  • "Burrs Under the Saddle." Texas Bar Journal 68 (July 2005): 609-610.
  • "Law Day Address at the University of Texas at Austin: The Enlightened Jurisprudence of Justice Thurgood Marshall." Texas Law Review 71 (May 1993): 1099-1114.
  • "The New Awakening: Judicial Activism in a Conservative Age." Southwestern Law Journal 43 (October 1989): 657-676.
  • "Recognizing the Ninth Amendment's Role in Constitutional Interpretation." Texas Law Review 74 (May 1996): 1241-1244.
  • "A Relativist Constitution." University of Colorado Law Review 52 (1980–1981): 19-32.
  • "The Two Faces of Judicial Activism." George Washington Law Review 61 (November 1992): 1-13.


  1. ^ Kemerer, Frank. 2008. William Wayne Justice: A Judicial Biography, 2d ed. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  2. ^ "United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Marshall Division. UNITED STATES of America v. STATE OF TEXAS, Texas Education Agency, Dr. J. W. Edgar, Commissioner of Education, Cason Independent School District, et al. — 321 F.Supp. 1043" (PDF). University of Texas School of Law — Tarlton Law Library. 1970.  line feed character in |title= at position 89 (help)
  3. ^ United States v. Texas, 506 F. Supp. 405 (E.D. Tex. 1981),
  4. ^ "UNITED STATES V. TEXAS". Texas State Historical Association. 
  5. ^ "Ruiz v. Estelle, 503 F.Supp. 1295 (1980)" (PDF). PDF. 1980. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  6. ^ Lucko, Paul. "Handbook of Texas Online - Pope, Lawrence Chalmous". www.tshaonline.org. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  7. ^ "30-year Texas prison battle ends". Dallas Morning News. June 8, 2002. 
  8. ^ William Wayne Justice Center http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/centers/publicinterest/about/judgejustice.html
  9. ^ “Civil Rights Legend Morris Dees to Discuss Litigating Against Hate Groups, March 1.” University of Texas at Austin School of Law News & Events. Press release, February 12, 2007. http://www.utexas.edu/law/news/2007/021207_dees.html
  10. ^ McCracken, Jennifer. "Judge Justice Honored with the First Morris Dees Award." University of Alabama. Press Release, September, 2006.
  11. ^ "U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice dies; rulings led to sweeping prison reforms". Dallas Morning News. October 14, 2009. 
  12. ^ "Texas Federal Judge, 89, Dies", Laredo Morning Times, October 15, 2009, p. 11A

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Joseph Warren Sheehy
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas
Succeeded by
T. John Ward