William J. Guste

William J. Guste

William J. "Billy" Guste, Jr., (born May 26, 1922) is a New Orleans attorney, businessman and popular Democratic attorney general of Louisiana from 1972-1992. He succeeded the scandal-plagued Jack P.F. Gremillion, a fellow Democrat who had held the position since 1956. Guste received recognition for molding the office into a model of integrity and efficiency. In 1976, he helped Jimmy Carter win Louisiana and served as the first elector in the state for the Carter-Mondale slate.

Early years

Guste was born to a wealthy New Orleans couple, William J. Guste, Sr., and the former Marie Louise Alciatore. The senior Guste was an attorney and a high ranking member of the Catholic men's organization, the Knights of Columbus. Guste, Jr., graduated from law school at Loyola University in New Orleans. He served on the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, at the invitation of then Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison, Sr., from 1956-1957. Guste was a member and chairman of the Juvenile Court Advisory Committee of Orleans Parish in 1961-1962.

Guste is married to Dorothy S. Guste (born 1924). He is widely viewed as a quiet, unassuming, almost shy man with dark wavy hair, in sharp contrast to the flamboyant, in-your-face image of his predecessor Jack Gremillion. Voters rewarded Guste's competence and integrity and kept him in the attorney general's position for two decades. He is therefore the longest-serving attorney general in modern Louisiana history.

Running for mayor of New Orleans, 1969

Guste was a state senator from Orleans Parish from 1968-1972, but he had ambition beyond the legislature and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New Orleans in the 1969 Democratic primary. Two other candidates, Maurice "Moon" Landrieu, with 33,093 votes, and James Edward Fitzmorris, Jr., with 59,301 ballots, went into a runoff primary. Guste polled 29,487 votes, just 3,606 ballots behind Landrieu. Landrieu then scored a come-from-behind victory over Fitzmorris. Landrieu then went on to defeat the only Republican to contest seriously the New Orleans' mayoralty in recent years, Ben C. Toledano, in the general election held in the spring of 1970.

Election as attorney general, 1971-1972 and 1975

In 1971, Guste did not seek reelection to the state Senate but instead entered a crowded Democratic field for attorney general. Gremillion was seeking a fifth term, but it was believed that the corruption allegations then pending against him, which later resulted in conviction and a prison sentence, would doom his candidacy.

In addition to Guste and Gremillion, the other candidates included Guste's state Senate colleague, George T. Oubre, Sr., from St. James Parish, who also represented St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes. Also running was J. Minos Simon (1922-2004), an articulate Lafayette lawyer known for his theatrics, humor, and yet stern demeanor in the courtroom. Waiting to face the winner of the Democratic primaries was Thomas Eaton "Tom" Stagg, Jr., of Shreveport, the first Republican to wage an active contest for Louisiana attorney general in modern history. Stagg would later become a long-serving U.S. District judge on the appointment of President Richard M. Nixon.

Guste and Oubre went into a primary runoff in which Guste was a comfortable winner. Guste then overwhelmed Stagg, whose campaign, while blessed by Republican gubernatorial nominee David C. Treen, then of Jefferson Parish, fell far short. Guste prevailed in the general election with 763,276 votes (74.1 percent) to Stagg's 270,038 (25.9 percent). Stagg won only his native Caddo Parish with 54 percent of the ballots cast. The other 63 parishes backed Guste, most by margins of more than 57 percent.

Once in office, Guste placed on his staff the attorney Joseph A. Sims of Hammond, a former legal advisor to Governor Earl Kemp Long, who had "rescued" Long from his confinement at Southeastern Louisiana State Hospital in Mandeville in the summer of 1959. Sims died a year after his appointment. Sims had run unsuccessfully for attorney general in 1952.

Defending creation science

In the Treen gubernatorial administration (1980-1984), the legislature passed a law permitting public school teachers to instruct the tenets of "creation science" in their lessons if the theory of evolution is also presented. The law neither required the teaching of evolution or creation science, but the instruction of both if the other were taught. Guste, regardless of his personal views on the matter, as attorney general was compelled to defend the Louisiana law. He argued that teachers should be able to present evidence favoring creation because the Supreme Court recognizes that teachers "already possess" the "flexibility to teach "all" the scientific evidence about the origins of life." Guste noted that the monitoring of state textbooks and science curricula would continue under the creation-science law.

The high Court ruled 7-2 in "Edwards v. Aguillard" in 1987, long after the initial issue had arisen, that creation science is "not science" but "religion" in the name of "science." The "Edwards" in the case referred to Governor Edwin Washington Edwards, who had returned to office in 1984, by having unseated David Treen in the primary the preceding fall. The Supreme Court found that the Louisiana legislature's actual intent was "to discredit evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the introduction of creationism, a religious belief." Therefore, the court held that creation science instruction would be a violation of the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment. Defending the Louisiana law were then Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia, who argued that the court had no reason to interfere with a state law regarding school instruction. Scalia later said that such decisions meant that the court "bristled with hostility toward religion."

Arkansas, under Republican Governor Frank D. White, had passed a similar law at the time. Some 15 years later, an alternative view called "intelligent design" came before federal courts for scrutiny, and lower courts ruled that intelligent design too is "not science" but a form of "religion" in the name of "science."

Guste supported affirmative action

Guste pleased liberals by being a strong defender of affirmative action. He submitted an "amicus curiae" brief in the 1986-1987 case "Johnson v. Transportation Agency of Santa Clara County, California" on behalf of a female county employee who was promoted over an equally qualified male employee. The plan provided that, in making promotions to positions within a traditionally segregated job classification in which women have been significantly underrepresented, the transportation agency was authorized to consider as "one factor" the sex of a qualified applicant. The agency said that women were represented in numbers far less than their proportion of the county labor force. Therefore, the county plan was intended to achieve a statistically measurable yearly improvement in the hiring, training, and promotion of minorities and women. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the county government that the voluntary affirmative-action plan did not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In his dissent, Justice Scalia, who sided with the Reagan administration, said that the Santa Clara County plan was "not established to remedy prior sex discrimination by the agency, but imposed racial and sexual tailoring that would, in defiance of normal expectations and laws of probability, give each protected racial and sexual group a governmentally determined 'proper' proportion of each job category," or, in other words, racial or sexual quotas.

Guste was prolife within the Democratic Party

Guste, like many Louisiana Democrats in the 1980s, pleased conservatives by taking a prolife position on abortion. In 1989, in his last term in office, he filed an "amicus curiae" brief in the "Webster v. Reproductive Health Services". The Supreme Court in this case reversed an appeals court decision that required public hospitals to offer abortion services. The case stemmed from Missouri, which has such facilities in St. Louis and Kansas City, but had the appeals ruling stood, it would have applied in the other 49 states as well. The "Webster" in the case was Missouri's Republican Attorney General William Webster. Abortion rights groups around the country rallied on behalf of the defendant. The result is that state hospitals need not provide elective abortions except in cases of impregnation by rape, incest, or in situations where the medical personnel cannot save the lives of both the woman and the child.

Guste's role as attorney general

Guste was an active attorney general in many areas. Governor Edwards named him to the Governor's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice in 1974. In 1983, President Ronald W. Reagan named Guste, despite their partisan difference, to the President's Commission on Organized Crime.

Guste was often involved in litigation referring to Louisiana's shrinking coastline, or wetlands. In such cases, he often took the environmentalist position, with the view that once such wetlands are lost, they cannot be reclaimed. Property rights advocates, however, often quarreled with Guste by taking the view that he defined "wetlands" too broadly.

Guste defended Tulane University in New Orleans in one of his advisory opinions, which have the force of law, unless the legislature rules otherwise. He said that the institution was tax-exempt under a law, and that the exemption applied to sales and use taxes too, unless the legislature stipulated otherwise.

Guste's last campaign, 1987

In the first ever jungle primary on November 1, 1975, Guste won a second term as attorney general, having easily defeated intraparty rival, State Representative Risley C. Triche, a colorful figure from Napoleonville, the seat of Assumption Parish in south Louisiana, 672,065 (63 percent) to 398,088 (37 percent). [Election returns, "Minden Press-Herald", November 3, 1975, p. 1]

In his last election for attorney general, Guste secured his fifth term by a closer vote than what he had become accustomed. He had two opponents in the jungle primary, both Democrats, Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry A. Connick, Sr., (the father of the popular entertainer Harry A. Connick, Jr.,) and Manuel A. "Manny" Fernandez. Guste led the October 1987 balloting with 655,979 votes (47 percent), and Connick trailed with 440,865 ballots (31 percent). Fernandez drew a significant 309,065 votes (22 percent). In the November 1987 general election (usually called a "runoff" in Louisiana), with a much lower turnout, Guste prevailed over Connick, 516,658 (54 percent) to 440,984 (46 percent). It was a striking statistical quirk that Connick received just under 441,000 ballots in "both" the primary and the general election. The Guste-Connick contest pleased many in New Orleans because the city could offer to the rest of the state two of its most famous and successful men.

Guste, who was nearing 70 at the time, did not seek a sixth term in the 1991 primary. He was succeeded by fellow Democrat Richard Phillip Ieyoub of Lake Charles, the seat of Calcasieu Parish. Ieyoub defeated Republican Ben Bagert, a state senator from New Orleans, in the general election by a 69-31 percent margin.

Antoine's Restaurant

Guste and his brother, Roy Francis Guste, Sr. (born 1924), were fourth generation proprietors of the elegant Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans. Their two sons, cousins Roy F. Guste, Jr. (born 1951), and Bernard R. "Randy" Guste (born 1949), have split time serving the family as managers since the 1970s. The restaurant is known for many menu items, particularly Oysters Rockefeller, of which more than a million orders have been served since the business opened in the nineteenth century.


The Gustes are the parents of ten children: four boys and six girls. The eldest son, William J. Guste, III, (born 1948), is a prominent litigation lawyer in New Orleans. Guste, III, is a partner of the firm Guste, Barnett, and Shushan. The Gustes are Roman Catholic. One of their daughters, Sr. Melanie A. Guste, RSCJ,(born 1952),is a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, an international congregation of religious women. Stationed in Baton Rouge, LA, Sr. Melanie Guste received her doctorate (Ph.D.) in Human and Organizational Systems in 2006.

Guste was honored by the naming of the William J. Guste Elementary School in New Orleans.


* http://www.sos.louisiana.gov:8090/cgibin/?rqstyp=elcms2&rqsdta=102487
* http://www.sos.louisiana.gov:8090/cgibin/?rqstyp=elcms2&rqsdta=112187
* http://www.sos.louisiana.gov:8090/cgibin/?rqstyp=elcms2&rqsdta=111691
* http://www.sos.louisiana.gov:8090/cgibin/?rqstyp=elcpr&rqsdta=11218736
* http://www.greatschools.net/modperl/browse_school/la/887/
* http://www.lawyers.com/lawyers/New%20Orleans/Louisiana/William%20J.%20Guste/attorney.html?a=0762-RAW&b=G100014D30A3A6CA4D60C&CMP=KNC-OSMXPV&site=729
* http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi
* http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi?lastname=Simon&firstname=J&start=41
* http://foodfest.neworleans.com/sponsor/history.html
* http://www.grisda.org/origins/14021.htm
* http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/edwards-v-aguillard.html
* http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1983/72883c.htm
* http://bss.sfsu.edu/naff/Diversity/fall%202001/Johnson.htm
* http://www.gumbopages.com/antoines.html
* http://www.pregnantpause.org/court/webst-p.htm

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