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SMU News and Information
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May 8, 2001


DALLAS (SMU) -- Southern Methodist University will confer an honorary Doctor of Laws degree upon senior U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice during its 86th annual commencement ceremony at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 19, in Moody Coliseum, 6024 Airline Road.

On the day before commencement, Friday, May 18, constitutional law scholars; experts in prison and criminal justice reform; plaintiffs and defense attorneys who have litigated cases before Justice; and some of his former law clerks will examine the impact of Justice's landmark rulings. The colloquium, "William Wayne Justice: In Theory and Practice," will be from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Hillcrest Courtroom in the Underwood Law Library at SMU's Dedman School of Law, 6550 Hillcrest Ave. The event is free and open to the public.

Dubbed the "Real Governor of Texas" because of his control over the state prison system and his sweeping rulings on desegregation and bilingual education, Justice has brought substantial reform to Texas government in his more than 30 years on the federal bench. He was appointed a federal judge in 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson. A former trial lawyer and federal prosecutor, Justice oversaw the virtual integration of all Texas public schools and, in a 1981 case, ruled that bilingual education should apply to all 12 public school grades.

His most famous decision, however, resulted in a complete overhaul of the state's prison system, the 1972 Ruiz vs. Estelle lawsuit, in which he declared Texas prisons to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment or "cruel and unusual punishment" clause. The ruling led to millions of dollars in state spending on new prisons in the 1980s and 1990s. His ruling in Plyer vs. Doe, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, allowed the children of undocumented aliens to attend public schools without payment of tuition.

Justice received his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1942. He has been a member of the American Bar Association, the Institute of Judicial Administration, the American Judicature Society, the Judicial Ethics Committee, Judicial Conference Review Committee and the Joint Committee on the Code of Judicial Conduct. His many awards and honors include the Order of the Coif, the NAACP Texas Heroes Award, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Lifetime Achievement Award and the Texas Civil Liberties Union Outstanding Federal Trial Judge Award.

The colloquium, "William Wayne Justice: In Theory and Practice," will feature the following panel:

  • John Attanasio, dean of SMU's Dedman School of Law and the William Hawley Atwell Chair in Constitutional Law
  • Malcolm Feeley, University of California at Berkeley law professor and an expert in constitutional law
  • Lucas Guttentag, former law clerk and an attorney for the New York City American Civil Liberties Union Chapter's Immigrant Rights Project
  • Darren Hutchinson, SMU's Dedman School of Law professor and expert in constitutional law
  • Senior U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice
  • Steve Martin, former general counsel of the Texas prison system and author of Texas Prisons: When the Walls Came Tumbling Down
  • Richard Mithoff, former law clerk and the plaintiff's attorney for the case that resulted in reforms to the Texas juvenile justice system
  • Judith Resnik, Yale University law professor and a scholar of institutional reform and federal procedure
  • Senior U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders
  • Jordan Steiker, University of Texas at Austin law professor and an expert in constitutional law
  • David Vanderhoof, civil rights attorney who litigated several desegregation cases before Justice.

For more information about the colloquium, call SMU's Dedman School of Law at 214-768-2621.

In addition to Justice, musician and philanthropist Van Cliburn will receive an honorary Doctor of Arts degree at commencement. The university has already awarded King Juan Carlos I of Spain an honorary Doctor of Arts degree March 30 when he visited SMU to attend the International Festival of Opening Events for the new Meadows Museum.