One of the great protectors of civil rights has passed away.
U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice — beloved by some, loathed by others — changed Texas civil and inmate rights in ways few political figures have over the past half-century. Justice, who spent 30 years on the bench and once was dubbed “the real governor of Texas” for his rulings, died Tuesday at age 89.
Black children across Texas attend public schools because Justice enforced federal desegregation laws in 1970.
Hispanic children gained the same rights as blacks because of Justice’s rulings. His orders prompted bilingual education in Texas.
Texas must educate all children regardless of their immigration status because of a Justice decision.
Juveniles convicted of crimes were moved from incarceration in work camps to modern rehabilitation facilities at his command.
The most sweeping change of all was the Ruiz prison reform case that ended brutal conditions for inmates and prompted a massive building boom that gave Texas one of the largest and most modern incarceration systems in the nation.
Civil rights activists praised Justice during his lifetime, but in his hometown of Tyler he often was scorned.
“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,” Justice told biographer Frank Kemerer for a 1991 book. “Controversy is now kind of a way of life with me. But I have never particularly liked it.”