Saturday, October 24, 2009

Texas, the Eyes of Justice Are Upon You

Texas, the Eyes of Justice Are Upon You


By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Friday, Oct 23, 2009


     The Lone Star State mourns a justice-for-all judge

     while enduring a governor who's in love with the

     death penalty


On Oct. 13, we lost a resolute champion of the law, a

man who left his impact 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 a federal

judge for the Eastern District of Texas. That's right,

he was "Judge Justice." And he spent a distinguished

legal career making sure that everyone -- no matter

their color or income or class -- got a fair shake. As

a former Texas lieutenant governor put it last week,

"Judge Justice dragged Texas into the 20th century, God bless him."


Dragged it kicking and screaming, for it was Justice

who ordered Texas to integrate its public 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 for 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 B. Johnson ordered Texas to open

its public housing to everyone, regardless of their

skin color. He looked at the state's "truly shocking

conditions" 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 Justice 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

bare floors of their cellblocks and often went without

medical care. The late, great Molly Ivins said, "He

brought the United States Constitution to Texas."


Some say that justice stings. William Wayne Justice

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 cross burnings and constant 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 while so many Texans have

fought and are fighting the good fight in the Judge

Justice tradition, others believe in the law only when

it sides with them. They long for the good old days of

Judge Roy Bean, the saloonkeeper whose barroom court

was known in the frontier days as "the law west of the

Pecos." His judicial philosophy was simple: "Hang 'em

first, try 'em later."


The present governor of Texas seems to be channeling

Bean. During his nine years in office, Rick Perry --

"Gov. Goodhair," as Ivins called him -- 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. (The most, it is said, of any

U.S. governor in modern history.)


Lethal injection is practically a religious ritual in

Texas. In fact, before their sentencing verdict that

will send Khristian Oliver to die in just a couple of

weeks -- on Nov. 5, to be exact -- jurors in the east

Texas town of Nacogdoches 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, "The revenger of blood himself shall slay

the murderer." Although it was noted that referencing

holy writ was an inappropriate "external influence,"

two appeals courts upheld the jury's sentence and the

U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.


Perry will do almost anything to please the vengeful

crowd in the Colosseum with their thumbs turned down.

Did we mention that next year he's up for reelection?

When it turned out recently that five years ago the

state may have executed a man for a crime he didn't

commit, Perry pulled some particularly shady moves.


In February 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was put to

death for allegedly setting a fire that killed his

three young daughters. Perry has willfully ignored

evidence from top arson investigators that the blaze

was not homicide but an accident.


Now Perry has fired the chairman and three members of

the state's Forensic Science Commission just as they

were about to hear further scientific testimony that

might prove Willingham's innocence. This week, Perry

told reporters that the controversy is "nothing more

than propaganda from the anti-death penalty people

across the country."


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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