I learned last night that another dear friend died yesterday. Steve Russell, birth name Steve Teehee, was an enrolled Cherokee, born in Oklahoma on the Muscogee Nation, who spent the majority of his life in and around Austin, Texas. He was a writer, author, judge, activist, teacher, husband, father, role model, and friend. Of all these ribbons, he was most proud of Writer. It mattered the most to him.
Steve wrote poetry, essays, social criticism, legal briefs, decisions, letters, emails, and checks to family and causes. He wrote in the Thurgood Marshall Law Review, the Georgetown University Public Policy Review, the Critical Criminology Journal. He published poetry and an autobiography, he wrote in Medium and for Newsweek. He befriended people of all races, castes and classes, though he tended to avoid people who thought they were better than somebody else. He didn’t get that from Jesus. He got it from his integrity. He got that integrity from sticking to himself and growing that soul through childhood beatings, bullying, poverty, confusion, the war in Viet Nam, and the injustices of being an American Indian and of practicing law.
He was never healthy, so far as I know. When we met in the 1990’s he was already suffering from morbid obesity. His mind dealt with that reality in ways I can’t describe. Bit I do know that mind was razor sharp and never gave up. He was brilliant, funny, possessor of dry wit and the great ability to insert a hilarious crudity into a stuffy conversation. He’s the man who introduced me to such Texas expressions as “turd in the punchbowl.” which I have used a time or two.
Steve wrote about law as a living soul whose development and direction could be critiqued and directed. He excoriated the George W. Bush decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. He pointed out that the ICC is the only method to delegitimize military force by any permanent member of the U. N. Security Council — that would be us — and the only forum in which to try accused terrorists with any semblance of fairness. We were not upholding the rule of law when we declared war on terrorism, Steve pointed out, if we withdrew from the court system that applied to all. After pointing out our logical and moral failing, he proposed that the American legal system does have the potential to export the fairness written into our system, opportunities for the innocent, particularly victims of official oppression.