by Molly Ivins
JudgeWilliam Wayne Justice, the man who brought the U.S. Constitution to Texas for 30 years, recently retired. That'll make a lot of stupid clods happy, including most in the Legislature, since they have never forgiven Justice for desegregating the schools. But the rest of us lose a towering public figure, a man whose record on the bench is so magnificent and whose personal conduct is so irreproachable that he is, verily, a secular saint.
(That'll cause him to choke on his coffee. Modesty is one of his many virtues.)
I know it's a painfully obvious point, but if ever a man lived up to his name, William Wayne Justice does. His decisions have changed our racial relations, our prisons and our juvenile detention facilities, improved the ability of a poor man to get justice, and given us "one man, one vote" in our elections, and that's just a small part of the record.
Justice is so revered in the world of the law that as a designated iconoclast, I naturally feel called upon to puncture his reputation. Personally, I think his single greatest trait is the ability to listen to poisonous piffle with a straight face.
There he sits, lookin' wise as a treeful of owls, while assorted high-priced lawyers present him with utter bilge. He listens calmly and respectfully and then rules like Solomon. If he didn't have a perfect poker face, folks would probably consider him merely human.
Among the idiocies Justice has gravely pondered:
Then there was the loopy occasion in 1988 when a bunch of aging hippies called the Rainbow Family were denied permission to hold a campout by the U.S. Forest Service, which assured the judge that these folks constituted such a menace that they had intimidated local, state and federal authorities and even the courts. Justice assured the Forest Service that he was not intimidated.
The way we got "one man, one vote" was after the Lege drew a redistricting map in 1971 that was a remarkable piece of modern art. It contained districts that looked like giant chickens, districts that looked like coiled snakes, and districts with odd zits that popped up to include the home of one liberal incumbent in the district of another liberal incumbent.
In the immortal plaint of Rep. Bill Finke of San Antonio: "Now looka here, Dell-win, look at what yew have done to mah district. Got a great big ol' ball on one end, runs in a little-bitty strip for 300 miles and got a great big ol' ball on the other end. Looks like a pair of dumbbells. The courts say the districts have to be COM-pact and CON-tiguous; is this yore idea of COM-pact and CON-tiguous?"
Redistricting Chairman Delwin Jones replied: "Wha-ell, in a artistic sense, it is."
Justice's aesthetic sensibilities are as well-developed as the next man's, but much as he appreciated the artistic merit of the plan, he also found it unconstitutional to high heaven.
We may be able to find another judge whose understanding of the Constitution is as profound as Justice's, but I bet we'll never get another who can keep a straight face while listening to all the ways Texans can find to embarrass the Founding Fathers.
This Molly Ivins column first appeared May 1998
December 12, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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