Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Morris Dees Justice Award Goes To Texas Judge

The law firm of Skadden, Arps, Meagher & Flom has joined with the University of Alabama School of Law to create the Morris Dees Justice Award. The award is named after the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Some of you may remember Morris Dees as the lawyer who "broke" the Klan by winning a civil judgement against them. The Klan was forced to give up all the property they owned to pay the judgement. Dees has spent his life fighting for the underprivileged, and against hate groups. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that Morris Dees is one of my heroes.

Now Dees is being honored by naming the award for him. The SPLC says the Morris Dees Justice Award is to be awarded annually to "a lawyer who has devoted his or her career to serving the public interest and pursuing justice, and whose work has brought positive change in the community, state or nation."

This year's Morris Dees Justice Award is being presented to another hero of mine -- Texas Judge William Wayne Justice. Judge Justice has probably done more than any other legal expert to defend the underprivileged and uphold the Constitution here in Texas. The award could not have gone to a more deserving person.

The SPLC says Judge Justice was honored for "his lifelong efforts to protect civil rights and safeguard constitutional rights during more than 30 years as a federal district judge. His notable cases dealt with integration, prisoner's rights, procedural due process, equal access to education, treatment of immigrants, dilution of voting rights and care for the mentally challenged."

Perhaps his most famous cases are:

Ruiz v. Estelle -- This case, which lasted for a year and involved 349 witnesses, completely overhauled the Texas prison system. [1972]

United States v. Texas -- Ordered the Texas Education Agency to desegrate Texas schools, affecting over 1000 schools and 2 million students. [1970]

Plyer v. Doe -- Allowed the children of undocumented immigrants to attend school through the 12th grade. [1982]

Here is a short bio on Judge Justice written by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Born in 1920 in Athens, Texas, Judge Justice graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1942, joined the U.S. Army and served in India during World War II. In 1946, he began practicing law in Athens with his father, who was a voice for the disadvantaged. After serving as city attorney for eight years, Judge Justice was selected by President John F. Kennedy 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, sitting in Tyler. Judge Justice took senior status in 1998.

Thank you Judge William Wayne Justice. We deeply appreciate your service to our state and our nation.

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