In Memoriam – Judge William Wayne Justice
Justice… for All
As the year comes to a close, we at IDRA reflect on those who have made great contributions to education. "Fighting the good fight," begins the forward in Dr. José A. Cárdenas’ chronicle on the battle to achieve Texas school finance equity. Like Dr. Cárdenas, IDRA’s founder and director emeritus, Judge William Wayne Justice was a figure who found himself thrust into the center of great issues and, in his case, harnessing the power of his court to improve the educational opportunities of millions of children in Texas and throughout the country. Judge Justice passed away in October.
IDRA’s history has long been interwoven with Judge Justice’s from our involvement, including providing testimony, in the work to integrate Texas schools, to the legal struggle to ensure that limited English speaking children had access to comprehensible instruction, and the battle to ensure that children of undocumented workers were not denied access to a basic public education. We have shared his vision and ideal that education should be fair, Photo Courtsey of John Katz
equitable and available for all children.
While most would have run away from the challenge of dismantling segregated schooling, Judge Justice issued historic rulings in U.S. vs. Texas and dragged Texas schools and state leaders kicking and screaming into a new era that acknowledged that as long as schools were separate, they could never be equal.
After that ruling, Judge Justice was asked to hear another historic case that challenged whether Texas public schools had eliminated the vestiges of discrimination against the state’s Hispanic student population. His 1981 ruling in that case required the state of Texas to adopt new bilingual education and ESL policies that would greatly improve the educational services provided to English language learners enrolled in Texas schools. Those policies provide the structural framework for state programs to this day.
Perhaps Judge Justice’s greatest contribution to education involved his ruling requiring children of undocumented workers to be allowed to enroll in the Texas public schools – a ruling eventually upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court and applied to all public schools throughout the country.
Education is fairer and better – for all children – as a result of the actions of Judge Justice. Many will agree, he did not seek to be involved in these controversial issues, but when confronted with them, he acted with courage found only in those great leaders who see injustice and fight to correct it. He used the power of the law, and was always, always seeking justice, justice for all.
Peter Roos lead attorney in the Doe vs. Plyler case involving education of immigrant children noted: "Judge Justice was all that a judge should be: fully committed to justice – especially for those who could only receive it in the federal courts, scholarly and gracious. You could not ask for anything more."
Roger Rice, who was involved in the bilingual education litigation, commented: "From the early days of the civil rights movement on forward there have been a small handful of courageous federal judges who combined their knowledge of the law with a deep understanding of the lives of human beings and whose work made a difference for people. In Texas, William Wayne Justice, was such a judge. His life and his work made a difference."
Albert Kauffman, former attorney with Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) stated: "We have lost a real champion and a rare Texan, indeed a rare American."
David Hinojosa, current MALDEF attorney, added: "Judge Justice carried out the spirit of the law and the Constitution just as they were written and intended. His decisions not only opened schoolhouse doors to thousands of Latino children and others but also ensured that behind those doors quality educational programs were provided to those children. His presence will be sorely missed, but his legacy will undoubtedly live on."
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[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November-December 2009 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]