AUSTIN, Texas—The Honorable William Wayne Justice, a 1942 graduate of The University of Texas School of Law and a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Texas, will receive the first annual Morris Dees Justice Award.
The Morris Dees Justice Award was created in 2006 by The University of Alabama School of Law and the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates to honor Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel of The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama.
It will be presented to Judge Justice by Morris Dees during an award reception at the offices of Skadden, Arps in New York City on Nov. 16. The award will be given annually to a lawyer who has devoted his or her career to serving the public interest and pursuing justice, and whose work has brought about positive change in the community, state, or nation.
“Judge Justice’s accomplishments should make us all proud to be Americans and proud that great lawyers in the tradition of John Adams and Clarence Darrow still walk among us,” said Dees. “He is humble enough to bend down to help the least among us and courageous enough to walk fearless in the face of public disapproval.”
The selection committee recognized Justice for his life-long efforts to protect civil rights and safeguard constitutional rights, including more than 30 years of service as a federal district court judge. His landmark rulings have safeguarded the rights of minorities, the poor, and the politically powerless in many areas. These decisions have addressed race discrimination in schools and housing, inhumane conditions in prisons and juvenile treatment facilities, the dilution of voting rights, inadequate education for immigrant and non-English speaking children, and the unnecessary institutionalization of the mentally retarded.
Justice began his legal career in 1946, when he joined his father’s private law practice in Athens, Texas. Justice then served as city attorney in Athens for eight years before President Kennedy selected him in 1961 to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Since 1998, Justice has been assigned to sit by designation on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
Although his career on the bench has been a long and distinguished one, Justice is best known for two cases: Ruiz v. Estelle, which resulted in a complete overhaul of the Texas prison system, and United States v. Texas, in which Justice ordered the Texas Education Agency to begin desegregating the Texas public schools.
The University of Texas School of Law established the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law in 2000. The Justice Center promotes equal justice for all through legal education, scholarship and public service. The Center educates students and attorneys about public interest issues through conferences, research projects, and clinical courses; encourages all students to participate in pro bono and public interest law throughout their careers; and creates public service opportunities for students and graduates.
William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law: http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/centers/publicinterest/
Morris Dees Award: http://www.morrisdeesaward.com