While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Frank R. Kemerer

UNITED STATES V. TEXAS. In November 1970, William Wayne Justice, chief judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, ordered the Texas Education Agency to assume responsibility for desegregating Texas public schools. The decision in United States v. Texas, frequently named by its docket number, Civil Order 5281, applied to the entire Texas public school system and is one of the most extensive desegregation orders in legal history. The decision was the first of a string of highly controversial reform rulings Judge Justice handed down in the 1970s and 1980s that dramatically changed Texas public institutions, including state reform schools, facilities for the intellectually disabled, and state prisons. Justice, a liberal Democrat from Athens, Texas, was appointed to the federal bench in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. United States v. Texas originated with investigations in the late 1960s by the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare into alleged discriminatory practices in a number of small Texas public school districts, most in East Texas. Lacking effective enforcement power, HEW referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which was then at the height of its efforts to desegregate the nation's schools. The Justice Department sought to place the state as a whole under federal court order by naming both TEA and the state itself as parties to the lawsuit. Justice Department officials believed that Judge Justice would be highly supportive of their case and filed the lawsuit in his court in Marshall, Texas. Although the trial generated almost no press coverage, Justice's decision detailing how integration was to occur quickly captured the attention of both public school officials and top state policymakers. Denunciations began pouring into the court and continued thereafter for many years.

Justice first ordered the consolidation of the all-black school districts originally involved in the litigation with adjoining white districts. He then ordered TEA to prohibit all public school districts in the state from assigning students to schools on the basis of race, from discriminating in extracurricular activities and personnel practices, and from operating segregated bus routes. TEA was to conduct annual reviews of school districts with one or more campuses having a 66 percent or greater minority enrollment to determine compliance with federal desegregation law. If violations were found, TEA was to impose sanctions, including denial of accreditation. A year after Justice handed down his decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed it, but removed from his jurisdiction schools districts that were then or would later be under desegregation orders issued by other federal courts in Texas. Even with this modification, the order applied to more than 1,000 school districts and two million students. In 1982 a panel of judges on the Fifth Circuit rebuffed Justice's effort to extend United States v. Texas to alleged discrimination against Mexican Americans in the Gregory-Portland Independent School District. Noting the absence of any statewide policy of discrimination against Hispanics and expressing strong belief in neighborhood schools, the appeals judges downplayed most of the evidence Justice had relied on in ordering busing to integrate schools in the district. After that decision and a second in 1986 restricting use of Civil Order 5281 to challenge a state competency test for admission to college teaching programs, only sporadic efforts were made to enforce the order in Justice's court. By the early 1990s it seemed only a matter of time before the state would succeed in bringing about an end to United States v. Texas. Research conducted by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin shows that United States v. Texas had some limited success in forcing school districts across the state to readjust their campus student assignments to promote integration. In addition, segregation in transportation, school-district boundary changes, transfer of school property, and extracurricular activities was halted or significantly reduced, though problems remained. See also CIVIL-RIGHTS MOVEMENT.


Frank R. Kemerer, William Wayne Justice: A Judicial Biography (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991). Richard L. Schott, School Desegregation in Texas: The Implementation of United States v. Texas (Policy Research Report 51, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, 1982).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Frank R. Kemerer, "UNITED STATES V. TEXAS," accessed July 10, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jru02.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on June 5, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...