Born and reared in Miami, Donald Rodney Justice graduated from the University of Miami in 1945. He received an M.A. degree from the University of North Carolina in 1947 and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1954. From 1948 to 1949, he attended Stanford University to study with Yvor Winters. Among his other teachers were Karl Shapiro, Robert Lowell, and John Berryman. He married Jean Ross in 1947 and had one son.
Justice taught at various universities, including Syracuse; the University of California, Irvine; Princeton; and the Universities of Iowa and Virginia. He joined the faculty of the University of Florida at Gainesville in 1982, where he taught until 1992, when he retired from teaching. Justice died in 2004 in Iowa City.