Bill Moyers looks back at the distinguished career of Texas Federal Judge William Justice.
BILL MOYERS: As I was preparing for my conversation with Judge Goldstone, word came of the death of another resolute champion of the law who left his imprint on the lives of untold numbers of Americans. His very name made his life's work almost inevitable, a matter of destiny.
William Wayne Justice was Federal Judge for the Eastern District of Texas. That's right, he was Justice Justice, and he spent a distinguished legal career making doubly sure that everyone, no matter their color or income or class, got a fair shake. As one Texas politician put it last week, "Judge Justice dragged Texas into the 20th century, God bless him."
Dragged it kicking and screaming, I'd say, for it was Justice Justice who ordered Texas to integrate its schools, in 1971, 17 years after the Supreme Court's Brown v Board of Education decision made separate schools for blacks and whites unconstitutional.
Texas resisted doing the right thing as long as it could. Many of its segregated schools for African-American children were so poor they still had outhouses instead of indoor plumbing.
This small town lawyer appointed to the federal bench by President Lyndon Johnson ordered Texas to open its public housing to anyone, regardless of the color of their skin. He looked at the state's "truly shocking conditions," his description, in its juvenile detention system, and said, 'Repair it.' He struck down state law that permitted public schools to charge as much as a thousand dollars tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. And he demanded a top-to-bottom overhaul of Texas prisons, some of the most brutal and corrupt in the nation. He even held the state in contempt of court when he thought it was dragging its feet cleaning up a system where thousands of inmates slept on the dirty floors of their cellblocks, and often went without medical care. The late Molly Ivins said of William Wayne Justice, "He brought the United States Constitution to Texas."
"Justice stings" I once read. Well, this one certainly did. And his detractors stung back. With death threats and hate mail. Carpenters refused to repair his house, beauty parlors denied service to his wife. There were calls for his impeachment. After he desegregated the schools he was offered armed guards for protection. He turned them down and instead took lessons in self-defense.
You need to understand that many Texans believe in the law only when it sides with them. And they long for the good ol' days of Judge Roy Bean, the saloonkeeper whose barroom court was known in frontier days as, The Law West of the Pecos. Bean's instructions were simple: "Hang 'em first, try 'em later."
The present Governor of Texas sometimes seems to be channeling Roy Bean. During his nine-years in office, Rick Perry has presided over more than 200 executions, dwarfing the previous record of 152 set by his predecessor in the governor's mansion, George W. Bush.
Lethal injection is practically a religious ritual in Texas. In fact, before their sentencing verdict that will send a fellow to die in just a couple of weeks jurors in Nacogdoches County, Texas, consulted the Bible and found what they were looking for in the Book of Numbers, where it reads: "The murderer shall surely be put to death," and this one: "The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer."
Now Governor Perry will do almost anything to please the vengeful crowd in the coliseum with their thumbs turned down. And did I mention that next year he's up for re-election? When it turned out recently that five-years ago the state may have wrongfully executed a man for a crime he didn't commit, the Governor made some shady moves. He removed the chairman and three members of the state's forensic science commission just as they were about to hear further scientific evidence that might prove the man's innocence.
They can be short on mercy in Texas, all the more reason to mourn the loss of justice, William Wayne Justice. Rest in peace, Your Honor.
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I'm Bill Moyers. See you next time.