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Copyright (c) 1990 The Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior University
Stanford Law Review

ADDRESS: The Origins of Ruiz v. Estelle.

November, 1990

43 Stan. L. Rev. 1


William Wayne Justice *


I would like to take up two issues in my remarks today. The first may be termed historical. I will begin by briefly setting out the sequence of events that led to the initiation of the class action on behalf of prisoners incarcerated in Texas prisons in the case of Ruiz v. Estelle. 1 In most class action litigation, of course, the plaintiffs provide the impetus for maintaining the proceeding as a class action. In contrast, the decision in Ruiz to classify and consolidate the representative petitions that became the basis on which the case was litigated was my own.

The remainder of my remarks are an attempt to analyze and explain why it seemed necessary for the court to exercise its own initiative to bring about this consolidation. I wish to emphasize at the outset, however, that my desire to explain the court's conduct in Ruiz does not amount to an apology. I am much less interested in searching out precedents, in the traditional legal sense of that term, than I am in elaborating some broader analytical or theoretical scheme for making sense of the court's response to the hundreds of ill-drafted, handwritten prisoner's petitions that poured into the clerk's office in the Eastern District of Texas. I believe it is important to elaborate this broader means of understanding Ruiz because the problem the Texas prison case posed for our judicial system -- specifically, how our courts can provide meaningful access to legal institutions for the most ...
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