Justice, William Wayne (1920–)

Williams Wayne Justice, senior judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, is best known for his decisions for his controversial decisions on school desegregation (U.S. v. Texas), prison reform (Ruiz v. Estelle), the treatment of juveniles in Texas reform schools (Morales v. Turman), and public school education for undocumented aliens (Doe v. Plyer). In his more than thirty years on the bench, Justice recognized those whose voices were rarely heard in the Courts, and he received enormous criticism as a result.

Born in 1920 in Athens, Texas, Judge Justice attended the University of Texas School of Law, graduating in 1942. He served four years in the Army before joining his family’s law practice in Athens, where he remained in private practice for fifteen years. During that time, Justice began to dip into the pond of public service, serving twice as City Attorney for Athens. In 1961, he was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, where he served until his appointment to the federal bench by Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

Shortly after taking his seat on the bench, Justice made it obvious that he was willing to take on controversial issues, crafting consent decrees requiring the State of Texas to make a multitude of changes to various institutions. In a 1992 speech at the George Washington University National Law Center, Justice claimed ‘‘my name has appeared on the ‘ten most wanted list’ of judicial activists for much of my nearly quarter century on the bench.’’ In fact, he has never shied away from this label, wearing it as a badge of honor instead.

In 1969, the U.S. Justice Department filed suit in Judge Justice’s Court arguing that the Tatum Independent School District was out of compliance with federal civil rights law. In 1970, Justice issued orders in the case of U.S. v. Texas requiring that the Texas Education Agency cease approving discriminatory school district boundaries and withhold funds from school districts for noncompliance, a position the Agency firmly opposed.

Judge Justice used the consent decree throughout his career to force the Texas state government to make changes that they did not necessarily support. He required Texas to overhaul its juvenile reform schools in 1974 (Morales) and required the Texas Department of Corrections to revamp its prisons in 1980 (Ruiz). In fact, the Texas prison system was run under Justice’s consent decree for two decades.

Judge Justice is well aware that his decisions are often contentious, pointing out that ‘‘[s]everal of my own decisions have been made into campaign issues in Texas gubernatorial races and numerous local political contests,’’ but such controversy doesn’t seem to scare Justice. As Texas civil rights lawyer David Richards put it, ‘‘[t]here were two federal judges in the South who kicked ass and took names’’ in the late 1960s and ’70s. ‘‘They were Frank Johnson and Wayne Justice.’’

ERIC J. WILLIAMS

References and Further Reading

  • Kemerer, Frank. William Wayne Justice: A Judicial Biography. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1991. 
  • Wayne, Justice William., The Two Faces of Judicial Activism, George Washington University Law Review 61 (1992): 1:1–12.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Doe v. Plyer, 458 F. Supp. 569 (E.D. Texas 1978)
  • Morales v. Turman, 383 F. Supp 53 (E.D. Tex. 1974)
  • Ruiz v. Estelle, 503 F. Supp. 1265 (S.D. Tex. 1980)
  • U.S. v. Texas, 321 F. Supp. 1043 (E.D. Tex. 1970)

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