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William O. Douglas

In office
April 15, 1939[1] – November 12, 1975
Nominated by Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Louis D. Brandeis
Succeeded by John Paul Stevens

In office
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by James M. Landis
Succeeded by Jerome Frank

Born October 16, 1898(1898-10-16)
Maine Township, Minnesota
Died January 19, 1980 (aged 81)
Washington, D.C.
Religion Presbyterian

William Orville Douglas (October 16, 1898 – January 19, 1980) was a United States Supreme Court Associate Justice. With a term lasting 36 years and 209 days, he is the longest-serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court. In 1975, a Time article called Douglas "the most doctrinaire and committed civil libertarian ever to sit on the court."[2]


Early life

Douglas was born in Maine Township, Otter Tail County, Minnesota, the son of an itinerant Scottish Presbyterian minister from Pictou County, Nova Scotia.[3] His family moved to California, and then to Cleveland, Washington. His father died in Portland, Oregon in 1904, when Douglas was only six years old. After moving from town to town in the West, his mother, with three young children, settled the family in Yakima, Washington. William, like the rest of the Douglas family, worked at odd jobs to earn extra money, and a college education appeared to be unaffordable. Though not the valedictorian, Douglas did well enough in high school to win a scholarship to Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.[4]

While at Whitman, Douglas was a member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity. He worked at various jobs while attending school, as a waiter and janitor during the school year, and at a cherry orchard in the summer. Picking cherries, Douglas would say later, inspired him to a legal career. He once said of his early interest in the law:

"I worked among the very, very poor, the migrant laborers, the Chicanos and the I.W.W's who I saw being shot at by the police. I saw cruelty and hardness, and my impulse was to be a force in other developments in the law."[5]

Douglas was elected Phi Beta Kappa,[6] participated on the debate team, and was student body president in his final year. After graduating in 1920 with a B.A. in English and economics, he taught English and Latin at Yakima High Schools for the next two years, hoping to earn enough to attend law school. "Finally," he said, "I decided it was impossible to save enough money by teaching and I said to hell with it".[4] He travelled to New York (taking on a job tending sheep on a Chicago-bound train, in return for free passage), with hopes to attend the Columbia Law School.[4] Douglas's Beta Theta Pi membership helped him survive in New York, as he stayed at one of its houses and was able to borrow $75 from a fraternity brother from Washington, enough to enroll at Columbia.[7]

Six months later, Douglas's funds were running out. However, the appointments office at the law school let him know that a New York firm wanted a student to help prepare a correspondence course for law. Douglas earned $600 for his work, enabling him to stay in school. Moreover, he was called on for similar projects and had saved $1,000 by semester's end.[7] He then went to La Grande, Oregon, to marry Mildred Riddle, whom he had known at Yakima. He graduated fifth in his class in 1925, although he would thereafter claim to have been second. He went to work at the prestigious New York firm of Cravath, DeGersdorff, Swaine and Wood (later Cravath, Swaine & Moore).

Yale and the SEC

Douglas quit the Cravath firm after four months. After one year, he moved back to Yakima, but soon regretted the move and never actually practiced law there. After a time of unemployment and another months-long stint at Cravath, he went to teach at Columbia Law School. He quickly jumped to join the faculty of Yale Law School.

At Yale, he became an expert on commercial litigation and bankruptcy, and was identified with the legal realist movement, which pushed for an understanding of law based less on formalistic legal doctrines and more on the real-world effects of the law.

While teaching at Yale, he and fellow professor Thurman Arnold were riding the New Haven Railroad and were inspired to set the sign "Passengers will please refrain..." to one of Antonin Dvořák's Humoresques,[8] which became a common theme on the train and later spread widely into popular culture as an often bawdy song.

In 1934, he left Yale to join the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), having been nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[9] He became an adviser and friend to the President and SEC chairman in 1937.

On the Bench

Justice William O Douglas

In 1939, Justice Louis D. Brandeis resigned from the Supreme Court, and Roosevelt nominated Douglas as his replacement on March 20.[9] Douglas later revealed that this had been a great surprise to him—Roosevelt had summoned him to an "important meeting," and Douglas feared that he was to be named as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on April 4 by a vote of 62 to 4. The four negative votes were cast by four Republicans: Lynn J. Frazier, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Gerald P. Nye, and Clyde M. Reed. Douglas was sworn into office on April 17, 1939.


Relationships with other justices

Douglas was often at odds with fellow Justice Felix Frankfurter, who believed in judicial restraint and thought the Court should stay out of politics.[9] Douglas did not highly value judicial consistency or stare decisis when deciding cases.[9]

Judicial philosophy

In general, legal scholars have noted that Douglas's judicial style was unusual in that he did not attempt elaborate justifications for his judicial positions on the basis of text, history, or precedent. Instead, Douglas was known for writing short, pithy opinions which relied on philosophical insights, observations about current politics, and literature, as much as more conventional "judicial" sources.

Ultimately, he himself believed that a judge's role was "not neutral." "The Constitution is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of the people...." [10]

On the bench Douglas became known as a strong advocate of First Amendment rights. With fellow Justice Hugo Black, Douglas argued for a "literalist" interpretation of the First Amendment, insisting that the First Amendment's command that "no law" shall restrict freedom of speech should be interpreted literally. He wrote the opinion in Terminiello v. City of Chicago (1949) overturning the conviction of a Catholic priest who allegedly caused a "breach of the peace" by making anti-Semitic comments during a raucous public speech. Douglas, joined by Black, furthered his advocacy of a broad reading of First Amendment rights by dissenting from the Supreme Court's decision in Dennis v. United States (1952) affirming the conviction of the leader of the U.S. Communist Party.

In 1944 Douglas voted with the majority to uphold Japanese wartime internment, in Korematsu v. United States, but over the course of his career he grew to become a leading advocate of individual rights. Suspicious of majority rule as it related to social and moral questions, he frequently expressed concern at forced conformity with "the Establishment" in his opinions. For example, Douglas wrote the lead opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut, finding a "right to privacy" in the "penumbras" of the first eight amendments of the Bill of Rights.[9] This went too far for his old ally Black, who dissented in Griswold.

The Rosenberg Case

On June 16, 1953, Douglas granted a temporary stay of execution to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the two confirmed Soviet spies who had been convicted of selling the plans for the atomic bomb to the Russians. The basis for the stay was that the Rosenbergs had been sentenced to die by Judge Irving Kaufman without the consent of the jury. While this was permissible under the Espionage Act of 1917, which the Rosenbergs were tried under, a later law, the Atomic Secrets Act of 1946, held that only the jury could pronounce the death penalty. Since, at the time the stay was granted, the Supreme Court was out of session, this meant that the Rosenbergs could expect to wait at least six months before the case was heard.

When Attorney General Herbert Brownell heard about the stay, however, he immediately took his objection to Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, who took the unprecedented step of reconvening the Court before the appointed date and set aside Douglas's stay.[11]

Due to opposition to his decision, Douglas briefly faced impeachment proceedings in Congress. But attempts to remove him from the Court went nowhere in Congress.[12]

Douglas and the environment

Douglas was a self-professed outdoorsman, so much so that according to The Thru-Hiker's Companion, a guide published by the Appalachian Trail Club, Douglas hiked the entire 2,000-mile trail from Georgia to Maine. His love for the environment carried through to his judicial reasoning.

"Trees have standing"

In his dissenting opinion in the landmark environmental law case, Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), Justice Douglas famously, and most colorfully argued that "inanimate objects" should have standing to sue in court:

The critical question of "standing" would be simplified and also put neatly in focus if we fashioned a federal rule that allowed environmental issues to be litigated before federal agencies or federal courts in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers and where injury is the subject of public outrage. Contemporary public concern for protecting nature's ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation. This suit would therefore be more properly labeled as Mineral King v. Morton.

He continued:

"Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes. The corporation sole - a creature of ecclesiastical law - is an acceptable adversary and large fortunes ride on its cases.... So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes - fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it."

In the early 1970s, Douglas and his young wife Cathleen were invited by the late Dr Neil Compton and the Ozark Society to visit and canoe down part of the free-flowing Buffalo River in Arkansas, putting in at the low water bridge at Boxley. This experience endeared him to the river and the young organization's idea of protecting it. As such Douglas was instrumental in having it preserved as a free-flowing river, left in its natural state. This decision was much to the chagrin of the area's Corps of Army Engineers, who were busily damming every river they could. 'Flood control' was usually their rallying cry. The act that soon followed designated the Buffalo river as America's first National River.[13]


Douglas's review contributed to the success of Silent Spring, an important turning point for the environmental movement.

Besides his famous dissent in Morton, he also served on the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club from 1960 to 1962 and wrote prolifically on his love of the outdoors. He is credited with saving the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and inspiring the effort to establish the area as a national park; going as far as to challenge the editorial board of The Washington Post to go with him for a walk on the canal after it had published opinions supporting Congress' plan to pave the canal into a road.[14] His efforts convinced the editorial board to change its stance and helped save the park.[14]

In 1962, Douglas wrote a glowing review of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring which was included in the widely-read Book-of-the-Month Club edition. He later would sway the Court in the direction of preserving the Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky: a proposal to build a dam and flood the gorge reached the Supreme Court. Douglas visited the area himself (Saturday, November 18, 1967). The Red River Gorge's Douglas Trail is named in his honor.

In 1969 he wrote Points of Rebellion and authored a piece for Evergreen magazine.

In presidential politics

When, in early 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided not to actively support the renomination of Vice President Henry A. Wallace at the party's national convention, a shortlist of possible replacements was drafted. The names on the list included former Senator and Supreme Court Justice James F. Byrnes of South Carolina, former Senator (and future Supreme Court justice) Sherman Minton and former Governor and High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul McNutt of Indiana, House Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas, Senator Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky, Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri, and Douglas.

Five days before the vice presidential nominee was to be chosen at the convention, July 15, Committee Chairman Robert E. Hannegan received a letter from Roosevelt stating that his choice for the nominee would be either "Harry Truman or Bill Douglas." After releasing the letter to the convention on July 20, the nomination went without incident, and Truman was nominated on the second ballot.

After the convention, Douglas's supporters spread the rumor that the note sent to Hannegan had, in fact, read "Bill Douglas or Harry Truman,"[15] not the other way around. These supporters claimed that Hannegan, a Truman supporter, feared that Douglas's nomination would drive southern white voters away from the ticket (Douglas had a very anti-segregation record on the Supreme Court) and had switched the names to give the impression that Truman was Roosevelt's real choice. Evidence uncovered recently by Douglas's biographers, however, has discredited this story and seems to prove that Truman's name had been first all along.[citation needed] If nominated for vice president and elected under Roosevelt, Douglas would have become the 33rd President after Roosevelt's death.

By 1948, Douglas' presidential aspirations were rekindled by the extremely low popularity ratings of Truman, who had become president in 1945 on Roosevelt's death. Many Democrats, believing that Truman could not be reelected in November, began attempting to find a replacement candidate. Attempts were made to draft popular retired war hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower for the nomination. A "Draft Douglas" campaign, complete with souvenir buttons and hats, sprang up in New Hampshire and several other primary states. Douglas himself even campaigned for the nomination for a short time, but he soon withdrew his name from consideration.

In the end, Eisenhower refused to be drafted and Truman won nomination easily. Although Truman approached Douglas about the vice presidential nomination, the Justice turned him down. Douglas was later heard to remark, "I have no wish to be the number two man to a number two man."[citation needed] Truman instead selected Senator Alben W. Barkley and the two went on to win the election.

Impeachment attempts

There were two attempts to remove Douglas from office, both unsuccessful.

Fallout from the Rosenberg Case

On June 17, 1953, Representative William M. Wheeler, infuriated by Douglas's brief stay of execution in the Rosenberg case, introduced a resolution to impeach Justice Douglas. The resolution was referred to the Judiciary Committee to investigate the charges the next day. On July 7, the committee voted to end the investigation.

The 1970 attempt

Justice Douglas was fully committed to his causes. But because of difficult financial circumstances, he was also forced to maintain a busy speaking and publishing schedule to supplement his income. Never a wealthy man, Douglas became severely burdened financially due to a bitter divorce and settlement with his first wife. He only sank deeper into financial difficulties as settlements with his second and third wives essentially consumed his entire salary as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.

Douglas's steps to supplement his income as a result of his financial situation also included the unusual move of becoming president of the Parvin Foundation. While his efforts on behalf of the Parvin Foundation were legitimate, his ties with the foundation (which was financed by the sale of the infamous Flamingo Hotel by casino financier and foundation founder Albert Parvin), became a prime target for then-House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford. Besides being personally disgusted by Douglas's allegedly illicit lifestyle, Representative Ford was also mindful that Douglas protégé Abe Fortas was forced to resign because of ties to a foundation similar to Parvin.[16] Fortas would later say that he "resigned to save Douglas," thinking that the dual investigations into them would stop with his resignation.[16]

Some scholars[17][18] have argued that Ford's impeachment attempt was politically motivated. Those who support this contention note Ford's well-known disappointment with the Senate over the failed nominations of Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell to succeed Fortas. Thus, in April 1970, Congressman Ford moved to impeach Douglas in an attempt to hit back at the Senate.

Despite careful maneuvering by House Judiciary Chairman Emanuel Celler, and an apparent lack of proof of any criminal conduct on the part of Douglas (efforts by Attorney General John N. Mitchell and the Nixon administration to gather evidence to the contrary not withstanding),[19] Congressman Ford moved forward in the first major attempt to impeach a Supreme Court Justice in the modern era.

The hearings began in late April 1970. Congressman Ford was the main witness, and attacked Douglas's “liberal opinions,” his “defense of the 'filthy' film I Am Curious (Yellow), and his ties with the aforementioned Parvin. Additionally, Douglas was criticized for accepting $350 for an article he wrote on folk music in the magazine Avant Garde. The magazine’s publisher had served a prison sentence for the distribution of another magazine in 1966 that had been deemed pornographic. Describing Douglas’ article, Ford stated, “The article itself is not pornographic, although it praises the lusty, lurid, and risqué along with the social protest of left-wing folk singers.” Ford also attacked Douglas for his article in Evergreen Magazine, which was infamous for its proclivity for pictures of naked women. The Republican congressmen, however, refused to give the majority Democrats copies of the magazines, prompting Congressman Wayne Hays to remark “Has anybody read the article -- or is everybody over there who has a magazine just looking at the pictures?”[20]

When it became clear that the impeachment proceedings would be unsuccessful, they were brought to a close, and no public vote on the matter was taken.[21]

The effort to impeach Douglas and the struggles over the Fortas, Haynesworth, and Carswell nominations marked the beginning of a more partisan climate during the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominees.


During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice Douglas achieved a number of records, all of which continue to stand. In addition to serving on the Court for longer than any other Justice, he also managed to write more opinions and dissenting opinions, give more speeches, and author more books than any other Justice. Douglas also holds the record among Justices for having had the most wives (four) and the most divorces while on the bench (three). The four attempts to impeach Justice Douglas[22] were more than has been made on any other Justice.


Since his 1970 impeachment hearings, Douglas had wanted to retire from the Court. He wrote to his friend and former student Abe Fortas: "My ideas are way out of line with current trends, and I see no particular point in staying around and being obnoxious."[16]

On December 31, 1974, while on vacation in the Bahamas, Douglas suffered a debilitating stroke. Severely disabled, Douglas nevertheless insisted on continuing to participate in Supreme Court affairs, despite his obvious incapacity. Seven of Douglas's fellow justices voted to put off any argued case in which Douglas's vote might make a difference over to the next term.[23] At the urging of Fortas, Douglas finally retired on November 12, 1975, after 36 years of service. Ironically, it was Douglas's old nemesis, now-President Gerald R. Ford, to whom he had to submit his resignation and who appointed his successor, John Paul Stevens.


During his time on the Supreme Court, Douglas picked up a number of nicknames, which were bestowed upon him by both his admirers and his detractors. The most common epithet was Wild Bill, which he received for his independent and unpredictable stances and cowboy-style mannerisms, although many of the latter were affectations for the consumption of the press.

Personal life

Douglas married four times. He was married to Mildred Riddle from 1923 to 1953, Mercedes Hester Davidson from 1954 to 1963, Joan Martin (a law student in her early twenties) from 1963 to 1965, and Cathleen Heffernan (another law student in her early twenties) from 1965 until his death, January 19, 1980.[24] His first marriage produced two children, Mildred and William O. Douglas, Jr. Douglas's marriages and his alleged womanizing was a matter of public dispute at the time; in 1966 Kansas Representative Robert Dole compared his "bad judgment from a matrimonial standpoint" to his court decisions, and four separate resolutions were introduced in the United States House of Representatives calling for investigation of his moral character[25].

Douglas is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near the grave of former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.[26][27] His qualifications for burial at Arlington—namely, whether or not he served in the military—have been the subject of controversy.[22]

The William O. Douglas Wilderness, which adjoins Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, is named in his honor, as Douglas had both an intimate connection to that area and a deep commitment to environmental protection.[28] Douglas was a friend and frequent guest of Harry Randall Truman, owner of the Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake in Washington. Douglas Falls in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina is also named after him. The William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom, located in Beverly Hills, California, is named after him as well.


The William O. Douglas Committee, a select group of law students at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington has sponsored a series of lectures on the First Amendment since 1972, in Douglas's honor.[29] Douglas was the first speaker for the annual series.[29] The honors college at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington bears Douglas's name.

A statue of Douglas is in place in the courtyard of A.C. Davis High School, in Yakima, Washington. Also at Yakima, the William O. Douglas Federal Building was named for him in 1978. At Douglas's alma mater, Whitman College, William O. Douglas Hall is a much-sought-after dormitory among second-, third-, and fourth-year students. Douglas Hall, an apartment for continuing students at Earl Warren College, at the University of California, San Diego is named for him as well.

Primary sources

  • Go East, Young Man: The Early Years; The Autobiography of William O. Douglas ISBN 0394711653
  • The Court Years, 1939 to 1975: The Autobiography of William O. Douglas ISBN 0394492404
  • Democracy and finance;: The addresses and public statements of William O. Douglas as member and chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission ISBN 0804605564
  • Nature's Justice: Writings of William O. Douglas ISBN 0870714821
  • Strange Lands and Friendly People, by William O. Douglas ISBN 1406772046
  • Points of Rebellion, by William O. Douglas ISBN 0394440684
  • An Interview with William O. Douglas by William O. Douglas (sound recording) ASIN B000S592XI
  • The Mike Wallace Interview, with Mike Wallace May 11, 1958 (video)
  • The Mike Wallace Interview, May 11, 1958 (transcript)

Secondary sources

  • Abraham, Henry J., Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court. 3d. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). ISBN 0-19-506557-3.
  • Cushman, Clare, The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies,1789-1995 (2nd ed.) (Supreme Court Historical Society), (Congressional Quarterly Books, 2001) ISBN 1568021267; ISBN 9781568021263.
  • Frank, John P., The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions (Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel, editors) (Chelsea House Publishers: 1995) ISBN 0791013774, ISBN 978-0791013779.
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0195058356; ISBN 9780195058352.
  • Martin, Fenton S. and Goehlert, Robert U., The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography, (Congressional Quarterly Books, 1990). ISBN 0871875543.
  • Murphy, Bruce Allen (2003). Wild Bill: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-57628-4. [22]
  • Pritchett, C. Herman , Civil Liberties and the Vinson Court. (The University of Chicago Press, 1969) ISBN 9780226684437; ISBN 0226684431.
  • Adam M. Sowards in the Oregon Encyclopedia.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I., Conflict Among the Brethren: Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas and the Clash of Personalities and Philosophies on the United States Supreme Court, Duke Law Journal (1988): 71-113.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I., Division and Discord: The Supreme Court under Stone and Vinson, 1941-1953 (University of South Carolina Press, 1997) ISBN 1570031207.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I., The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary (New York: Garland Publishing 1994). 590 pp. ISBN 0815311761; ISBN 978-0815311768.
  • Woodward, Robert and Armstrong, Scott. The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court (1979). ISBN 9780380521838; ISBN 0380521830. ISBN 9780671241100; ISBN 0671241109; ISBN 0743274024; ISBN 9780743274029.

See also


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: William O. Douglas". 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  2. ^ Time Magazine, November 24, 1975
  3. ^ . Ernest Kerr, Imprint of the Maritimes, 1959, Boston: Christopher Publishing, p. 83.
  4. ^ a b c Current Biography 1941, pp233-35
  5. ^ Whitman, Alden. (1980). "Vigorous Defender of Rights." The New York Times, Sunday, January 20, 1980, p. 28.
  6. ^ Supreme Court Justices Who Are Phi Beta Kappa Members, Phi Beta Kappa website, accessed Oct 4, 2009
  7. ^ a b Current Biography 1941, p234
  8. ^ web site discussion of song references Douglas's Go East, Young Man
  9. ^ a b c d e Christopher L. Tomlins (2005). The United States Supreme Court. Houghton Mifflin. pp. 475–476. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  10. ^ Douglas, William O. (1980). The Court Years. Random House. pp. 8. 
  11. ^ Douglas had departed for vacation, but on learning of the special session of the Court, he returned to Washington. Bruce Allen Murphy, Wild Bill: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas at pages 324-325 (New York: Random House 2003).
  12. ^ "House Move to Impeach Douglas Bogs Down; Sponsor Is Told He Fails to Prove His Case." The New York Times, Wednesday, July 1, 1953, p. 18.
  13. ^ The Ozarks Society newsletters and books by Kenneth L Smith
  14. ^ a b Lynch, John A., "Justice Douglas, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and Maryland Legal History", University of Baltimore Law Forum 35 (Spring 2005): 104–125 
  15. ^ William O. Douglas "Political Ambitions" and the 1944 Vice-Presidential
  16. ^ a b c Laura Kalman (1990). Abe Fortas. Yale University Press. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  17. ^ Gerhardt, Michael J. (2000). The Federal Impeachment Process. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226289567. ;
  18. ^ Lohthan, William C. (1991). The United States Supreme Court: Lawmaking in the Third Branch of Government. Prentice Hall. ISBN 9780139336232. 
  19. ^ Gerald Ford's Remarks on the Impeachment of Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, April 15, 1970
  20. ^ (DV) Gerard: Conservatives, Judicial Impeachment, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
  21. ^ Gerhardt, Michael J. The federal impeachment process.
  22. ^ a b c Arlington National Cemetery on William Douglas, including review of Wild Bill.
  23. ^ Appel, Jacob M. (2009-08-22). "Anticipating the Incapacitated Justice". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2009-08-23. 
  24. ^ Arlington National Cemetery, William O. Douglas.
  25. ^ Time Magazine, July 29, 1966
  26. ^ Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook Supreme Court Historical Society at Internet Archive.
  27. ^ Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 - 41 (Feb 19, 2008), University of Alabama.
  28. ^
  29. ^ a b William O. Douglas Committee :: Gonzaga School of Law

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
James M. Landis
Securities and Exchange Commission Chair
1937 – 1939
Succeeded by
Jerome Frank
Legal offices
Preceded by
Louis Brandeis
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
April 15, 1939 – November 12, 1975
Succeeded by
John Paul Stevens


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The way to combat noxious ideas is with other ideas. The way to combat falsehoods is with truth.

William O. Douglas (16 October 189819 January 1980) was the longest serving Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, serving from April 17, 1939 to November 12, 1975.



We need to be bold and adventurous in our thinking in order to survive.

Judicial opinions

  • The whole, though larger than any of its parts, does not necessarily obscure their separate identities.
    • United States v. Powers, 307 U.S. 214, 218 (1939).
  • We have here the problem of bigness. Its lesson should by now have been burned into our memory by Brandeis. The Curse of Bigness shows how size can become a menace — both industrial and social. It can be an industrial menace because it creates gross inequalities against existing or putative competitors. It can be a social menace — because of its control of prices. Control of prices in the steel industry is powerful leverage on our economy. For the price of steel determines the price of hundreds of other articles. Our price level determines in large measure whether we have prosperity or depression - an economy of abundance or scarcity. Size in steel should therefore be jealously watched. In final analysis, size in steel is the measure of the power of a handful of men over our economy. That power can be utilized with lightning speed. It can be benign or it can be dangerous. The philosophy of the Sherman Act is that it should not exist. For all power tends to develop into a government in itself. Power that controls the economy should be in the hands of elected representatives of the people, not in the hands of an industrial oligarchy. Industrial power should be decentralized. It should be scattered into many hands so that the fortunes of the people will not be dependent on the whim or caprice, the political prejudices, the emotional stability of a few self-appointed men. The fact that they are not vicious men but respectable and social minded is irrelevant. That is the philosophy and the command of the Sherman Act. It is founded on a theory of hostility to the concentration in private hands of power so great that only a government of the people should have it.
    • United States v. Steel Co., 334 U.S. 495, 536 (1948).
  • A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purposes when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.
  • Absolute discretion is a ruthless master. It is more destructive of freedom than any of man's other inventions.
    • United States v. Wunderlich, 342 U.S. 98, 101 (1951).
  • Our recent decisions make plain that we do not sit as a super-legislature to weigh the wisdom of legislation nor to decide whether the policy which it expresses offends the public welfare.
    • Day-Brite Lighting, Inc. v. Missouri, 342 U.S. 421, 423.
  • We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.
  • The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom.
    • Public utilities Commission v. Pollak, 343 U.S. 451, 467 (1952).
  • All executive power — from the reign of ancient kings to the rule of modern dictators - has the outward appearance of efficiency.
  • The critical point is that the Constitution places the right of silence beyond the reach of government.
    • Ullman v. United States, 350 U.S. 422 (1956).
  • Free speech is not to be regulated like diseased cattle and impure butter. The audience ... that hissed yesterday may applaud today, even for the same performance.
    • Kingsley Books, Inc. v. Brown, 354 U.S. 436, 447 (1957)
  • The Constitution favors no racial group, no political or social group.
    • Uphaus v. Wyman, 364 U.S. 388, 406 (1960).
  • The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments could mean only one thing — one person, one vote.
    • Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368, 381 (1963).
  • Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects.
  • These examples and many others demonstrate an alarming trend whereby the privacy and dignity of our citizens is being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen -- a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of man's life at will.
  • For there is no constitutional right for any race to be preferred... If discrimination based on race is constitutionally permissible when those who hold the reins can come up with "compelling" reasons to justify it, then constitutional guarantees acquire an accordion-like quality.

Books and articles

  • The law is not a series of calculating machines where answers come tumbling out when the right levers are pushed.
    • 32 Journal of the American Judicial Society 105 (1948).
  • Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.
    • Speech to the Authors Guild Council in New York (December 3, 1951), reported in the Chicago Tribune (March 20, 2005), "PERSPECTIVE", C-1.
  • These days I see America identified more and more with material things, less and less with spiritual standards. These days I see America acting abroad as an arrogant, selfish, greedy nation interested only in guns and dollars, not in people and their hopes and aspirations. We need a faith that dedicates us to something bigger and more important than ourselves or our possessions. Only if we have that faith will we be able to guide the destiny of nations in this the most critical period of world history.
  • Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.
    • Speech to the Author's Guild Council in New York (1952), quoted in Complete Idiot's Guide to Your Civil Liberties (2003) by Michael Levin, p. 21.
As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air - however slight - lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.
  • The Fifth Amendment is an old friend and a good friend. one of the great landmarks in men's struggle to be free of tyranny, to be decent and civilized.
    • An Almanac of Liberty {1954).
  • The way to combat noxious ideas is with other ideas. The way to combat falsehoods is with truth.
  • The right to dissent is the only thing that makes life tolerable for a judge of an appellate court... the affairs of government could not be conducted by democratic standards without it.
    • America Challenged (1960).
  • The liberties of none are safe unless the liberties of all are protected.
    • A Living Bill of Rights (1961), p. 64.
  • Christianity has sufficient inner strength to survive and flourish on its own. It does not need state subsidies, nor state privileges, nor state prestige. The more it obtains state support the greater it curtails human freedom.
    • The Bible and the Schools‎ (1966), p. 58.
  • We must realize that today's Establishment is the New George III. Whether it will continue to adhere to his tactics, we do not know. If it does, the redress, honored in tradition, is also revolution.
    • Points of Rebellion (1969).
  • The first opinion the Court ever filed has a dissenting opinion. Dissent is a tradition of this Court... When someone is writing for the Court, he hopes to get eight others to agree with him, so many of the majority opinions are rather stultified.
    • New York Times interview, (29 October 1973).
  • The Court's great power is its ability to educate, to provide moral leadership.
    • Time Magazine interview, (12 November 1973).
  • The struggle is always between the individual and his sacred right to express himself and the power structure that seeks conformity, suppression, and obedience.
    • Go East, Young Man: The Autobiography of William O. Douglas (1974), p. 449.
  • It seemed to me that I had barely reached the Court when people were trying to get me off.
    • The Court years, 1939-1975: the autobiography of William O. Douglas‎ (1980), p. 3 (published posthumously).
  • The Constitution is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of people.
    • The Court years, 1939-1975: the autobiography of William O. Douglas‎ (1980), p. 8 (published posthumously).
  • As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air — however slight — lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.
    • The Douglas Letters : Selections from the Private Papers of Justice William O. Douglas (1987) edited by Melvin I. Urofsky and Philip E. Urofsky, p. 16
  • One who comes to the Court must come to adore, not to protest. That's the new gloss on the First Amendment.
    • Said to Justice Potter Stewart on the arrest of peacefully protesting Vietnam War veterans on steps of the Supreme Court. Reported in James B. Simpson, Simpson's Contemporary Quotations (1988), p. 65.


  • At the constitutional level where we work, ninety percent of any decision is emotional. The rational part of us supplies the reasons for supporting our predilections.
    • Although found in Justice Douglas' autobiography, The Court Years (1980), p. 8, Douglas asserts that this was told to him by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.

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