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William J. Guste Jr. dies

William J. GusteWilliam J. Guste Jr.William J. "Billy" Guste Jr., who served for twenty years as the attorney general of Louisiana and who assiduously defended the state's Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act, died on July 24, 2013, at the age of 91, according to the obituary in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (July 25, 2013).

The Louisiana Balanced Treatment Act was signed into law on July 20, 1981, and preparations were immediately underway to challenge it as unconstitutional. Consequently, "many of the biggest names in creationist legal circles came to the aid of the embattled bill," writes Amy J. Binder in Contentious Curricula (Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 142). "Joining Guste as legal counsel on the case were Wendell Bird, creationism's top legal mind, and John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute." Guste and his comrades stole a march on the opponents of the act by filing suit to force the state's educational system — whose superintendent had adopted a wait-and-see attitude — to comply with its provisions. When the American Civil Liberties Union filed its suit, Aguillard v. Treen, a day later, Guste asked for it to be delayed pending the resolution of the prior Keith v. Louisiana. After the Keith suit was dismissed, the Aguillard suit resumed. After a complicated detour through the Louisiana Supreme Court, a federal judge in New Orleans issued a summary judgment ruling that the act was unconstitutional, which was upheld by a panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and then, narrowly, by the whole court sitting en banc. Guste and his comrades then decided to take the case to the Supreme Court. In a letter to the editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune published on August 11, 1985, Guste defended the decision to appeal, emphasizing his central argument that the act's purpose was to ensure "academic freedom." When Bird argued the case before the Supreme Court, Guste was at his side. On June 19, 1987, on a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court ruled, in what was by then Edwards v. Aguillard, that the act was unconstitutional, holding that it "impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind." Although Bird was indisputably the foremost legal defender of the act, Binder writes, "Creationists had been wise to put their faith in the Louisiana Attorney General as a committed ally to the Bird and Whitehead team" (p. 144).

Guste was born on May 26, 1922, in New Orleans. He earned his A.B. and LL.B. degrees at Loyola University in New Orleans in 1942 and 1943 and was granted a honorary LL.D. degree by the same university in 1974. In addition to practicing law from 1943 to 1972, he served in the Louisiana Senate from 1968 to 1972 and as the attorney general of Louisiana from 1972 to 1992.