May 10, 2022 - News

A look-back at William Wayne Justice and the Plyler case

William Wayne Justice

William Wayne Justice, pictured in the 1980s. Photo: Bettmann / Contributor via Getty

After Gov. Greg Abbott said recently he'd like to challenge the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring public schools to provide education to children of all residents ā€” including undocumented immigrants ā€” we read through some of the decades-old letters to William Wayne Justice, the late and famously liberal federal judge from East Texas who originally presided over the case.

Driving the news: In the wake of a draft opinion leaked last week that suggests the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn precedent on abortion rights, Abbott said "we will resurrect that case."

  • In 1977, the Tyler School District, in East Texas, instituted a policy of charging $1,000 in annual tuition for children who couldn't establish legal residency in the U.S.
  • "Already disadvantaged as a result of poverty, lack of English-speaking ability, and undeniable racial prejudices, these children, without an education, will become permanently locked into the lowest socioeconomic class," Justice found, ruling for families challenging the school district rule.

What they said: Justice's decision was largely met with public disapproval, per an introduction to his papers at the University of Texas law library.

"Your most recent, absolutely absurd ruling that illegal aliens be included in the Texas Public School System under the same terms as Texas citizens is a complete abortion of the rights due those whose ancestors bought and paid dearly for the individual freedom encompassed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutions of the United States and Texas."
ā€” Robert Townsend, of Dallas, wrote in 1978
  • Yes, but: "You have made a difference in this rather backward State of ours and I appreciate everything you have done in so corageously (sic) exercising your Office," wrote Rev. John McCarthy of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston.

Justice told journalist Lou Dubose that the ruling was the one for which he would most like to be remembered.

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