Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive

Tuesday, March 20, 2001


Attorney General Cornyn: "This is a huge victory for Texas."

AUSTIN -- In what may be the final chapter of the State's storied 1972 Ruiz prison ruling, a federal court today reversed and remanded a 1999 ruling by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice giving him 90 days to justify continuing federal oversight of the Texas prison system.

In the opinion, Justice Carl E. Stewart wrote: "We recognize the need for an expeditious resolution ... particularly given the long duration of the case. Indeed, we have already noted ... our dismay at the delay by the district court in disposing of the present issues."

With that, Justice Stewart, for the court, gave the federal district court overseeing the Texas prison system 90 days to justify its actions.

"This is a huge victory for Texas. Never before has the Fifth Circuit acknowledged the Ruiz decision is now virtually a moot point," Attorney General Cornyn said. "Today's ruling, I believe, soon will lead to the restoration of Texas' sovereignty over its prison system."

In 1972, David Ruiz and other inmates filed civil rights suits claiming Texas prison system practices and conditions were unconstitutional. Since that time, and over the course of many legal maneuvers, a federal court has retained jurisdiction over the Texas prison system.

In 1996, Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PRLA), which among other things, said courts must require specific evidence to maintain authority over a State prison system.

In March 1999, Judge Justice ruled that the PRLA was unconstitutional and upheld his previous findings that the Texas prison system should continue to operate under federal oversight. Attorney General Cornyn appealed that continuing oversight in the Fifth Circuit that same month Today's ruling is on Attorney General Cornyn's appeal.

In its ruling today, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the Prison Litigation Reform Act, reversed Judge Justice's 1999 ruling, and remanded the case to him. Within 90 days, Judge Justice is to justify to the satisfaction of the Fifth Circuit why he -- and not Texas -- should operate the State's prison system.

"Texas has spent billions of dollars improving the prison system's organization, management and infrastructure. It should be gratifying to all Texans that control and accountability over our prison system is now very close to being in the hands of Texans once again," Attorney General Cornyn said. "I am grateful to the Fifth Circuit for accepting our arguments after 28 long years."

In the ruling today, Judge Reynaldo G. Garza in a special concurring statement, said: "I am sure that the conditions that existed when the consent decree was entered no longer exist. If any of the present prisoners have need for some kind of help, they can file another law suit against the Texas Prison System, but this case has to be ended. I urge my good friend (Judge Justice) to do so if at all possible.

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Contact: Mark Heckmann, Tom Kelley or Jane Dees Shepperd at (512) 463-2050.
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