He was a Texas judicial giant, and will be greatly missed.
The William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at the University of Texas School of Law will carry forward his legacy. The Law School has posted, "In Memoriam: The Honorable William Wayne Justice, 1920–2009."
U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice, whose rulings shattered old Texas by changing the way the state educated children, treated prisoners and housed its poorest and most vulnerable citizens, has died. He was 89.
His law clerk, Kelly Davis, said the judge died Tuesday in Austin.
The soft-spoken jurist spent three often tumultuous decades on the bench following his appointment by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. To some, Justice was a judicial renegade who disregarded the public's will by imposing his own concepts on a conservative state.
But his decisions are widely credited for creating a modern Texas. They forced the state to dramatically expand and improve its prison and juvenile justice systems, and to dismantle racial barriers in public housing and education. He opened public schools to the children of illegal immigrants and provided bilingual education in rulings that were later used as the foundation of national policy.
"I'm basically a very shy, retiring person, but fate has put me in a situation where I've been in the midst of controversy," he wrote in his 1991 book, "William Wayne Justice, A Judicial Biography."
After only two years on the bench, he ordered the state in 1970 to eliminate racial segregation in public schools after many districts ignored desegregation federal policies. That ruling, U.S. v. Texas, affected more than 1,000 school districts and 2 million students statewide.
Justice ordered Texas to provide free public education for illegal immigrants and their children following a class action lawsuit filed in September 1977. The suit accused East Texas' Smith County of excluding children of Mexican decent from public schools because they couldn't show legal U.S. residency. Appeals led to a landmark 1982 Supreme Court ruling that extended the right nationwide.
Justice took control of the Texas prison system after a 1972 lawsuit filed by inmate David Ruiz alleged overcrowding and inhumane conditions. After a nearly year-long trial in 1980, Justice issued a sweeping 188-page ruling that said Texas prisons were overcrowded, understaffed and offered inadequate medical care. Justice also found that prison officials tolerated rampant violence among inmates, guards and inmates who worked as guards under a generations-old system known as building tenders.
He ordered changes and appointed a special master to make sure they were implemented. Justice found the state in contempt in 1987. Voters later that year approved a half-billion dollars in bond for prison construction, the first step in an unprecedented building program that today includes more than 100 prisons housing some 154,000 inmates.
Justice ended federal oversight of the system in 2002.
That same year, Justice rebuked the administration of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush for failing to provide health care to children who already qualified for Medicaid.
"Judge Justice dies at 89," by Denise Gamino is at the Austin American-Statesman.
His destiny was all in a name.
William Wayne Justice was a giant in Texas history, the foreman of an audacious legal assembly line that churned out bulging packages of civil rights, equal justice and opportunities for the least among us.
Justice, a soft-spoken federal judge who roared in his class action rulings on human rights over the past 41 years, died Tuesday in Austin.
He was 89 and was still serving as a U.S. district judge in Austin, although illness had kept him out of the office for months.
A memorial service is scheduled for Monday at 10 a.m. at St. David's Episcopal Church in downtown Austin. A public reception will follow. Private burial will take place in the judge's East Texas hometown of Athens.
The judge also will be honored later with a monument at the Texas State Cemetery. The dedication of that cenotaph, which has not yet been scheduled, will be open to the public.
Justice was a legend in his own time. The very mention of his made-for-Hollywood name could turn state officials and conservative taxpayers red with anger but melt the hearts of reform advocates fighting to better the lives of overlooked people who had no clout.
People either thought "Judge Justice" was an oxymoron or simply redundant.
But today, most agree that William Wayne Justice shoved Texas, against its will, into the mainstream of society.
His legal compassion forever changed the lives of millions of schoolchildren, prisoners, minorities, immigrants and people with disabilities in Texas. He ordered the integration of public schools and public housing. He outlawed crowding, beatings and inhumane medical care in prisons and youth lockups. He ordered that community homes be provided to people with mental disabilities who were living in large institutions. He expanded voting opportunities.
And that was just the tip of the docket.
William Wayne Justice was "perhaps the single most influential agent for change in 20th-century Texas history," according to his official biographer, Frank Kemerer, who was a professor at the University of North Texas for almost 30 years.
"Through a series of momentous judicial decisions, his influence would sweep across the Texas landscape far beyond the geographic boundaries of his court and out into the nation," he wrote in "William Wayne Justice: A Judicial Biography" (University of Texas Press).
Justice was at the top of the list of so-called activist judges who, as a general group, are often accused by former President George W. Bush and other legal conservatives of interpreting the U.S. Constitution too expansively. But Justice took to heart a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1958 that, in essence, the Constitution and its amendments are "not static" and must draw "meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."
"I was never underprivileged, but I have human feelings. If you see someone in distress, well, you want to help them if you can," Justice told the American-Statesman in 2006. "I hope people remember me for someone trying to do justice. That's what I've tried to do."
The late Barbara Jordan, the first black woman from the South to serve in the U.S. Congress when she was elected from Texas in 1972, once said Justice "helped officials in Texas state government see their duty clearly."
"William Wayne Justice, Judge Who Remade Texas, Dies at 89," is the title of the New York Times obituary written by Douglas Martin.
Judge Justice had presided over cases in Austin until shortly before his death, having taken senior status there in 1998.
Judge Justice was a small-town lawyer active in Democratic Party politics when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the federal bench of the Eastern District of Texas in 1968. Sitting in Tyler, Tex., he came to be called the most powerful man in Texas by those who agreed with his largely liberal decisions and the most hated by those who differed.
In a 1998 column in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Molly Ivins made what she called the “painfully obvious point” that Judge Justice had lived up to his name, saying he “brought the United States Constitution to Texas.”
If Judge Justice seemed high-handed, it was partly because he believed that the founding fathers had wanted judges to seize and command the higher ground. Perhaps not surprising, people reacted with hate mail, death threats, ostracism and bumper stickers demanding his impeachment.
“The plain fact of the matter is that the majority is sometimes wrong,” Judge Justice declared in an interview with The New York Times in 1982.
Frank R. Kemerer, who wrote “William Wayne Justice: A Judicial Biography” (1991), said in an interview on Wednesday, “He had a transcendent value, which was to advance human dignity and provide a measure of basic fairness.”
In many cases Judge Justice challenged official intransigence by applying the known law of the land, as he did in 1971 when he told school districts in East Texas to obey the law by integrating. Even 17 years after the United States Supreme Court ordered schools to be integrated, it was not unusual for students in all-black schools to have outhouses rather than indoor restrooms.
Other cases lacked precedent. In 1978, Judge Justice struck down a Texas law that let public school districts charge tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. When the ruling was upheld 5 to 4 by the Supreme Court in 1982, millions of children had the right to a free education.
“There was absolutely no case law on it,” Judge Justice said in an interview with The Star-Telegram in 1998. “I found no case, no statute that covered the point of law that I had to decide. So I guess I made my own little contribution.”
To many, Judge Justice defined the concept of activist judge. In the early 1970s, he had his law clerks — many of them from top law schools like Harvard and Stanford — sift through hundreds of inmate letters complaining of cruel and unusual punishment in Texas prisons. He pulled out eight and consolidated them into a single action, then appointed a lawyer from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., William Bennett Turner, to handle the case. He asked the federal Justice Department to join with the inmates as a friend of the court.
The state defended a prison system with two doctors for every 17,000 prisoners, where 2,000 inmates slept on the floor and where inmate trustees, known as building tenders, essentially ran the cell blocks through coercion. It contended that Texas had, in fact, the best penal system in the nation.
In 1980, after a trial that lasted nearly a year, Judge Justice ordered major changes in the state’s prison system. In 1987, he held the state in contempt because the promised progress had been so meager.In 2002, after Texas had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build and improve prisons, Judge Justice released the Texas penal system from federal oversight.