William O. Douglas

William O. Douglas

William O. Douglas
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
April 15, 1939 – November 12, 1975[1]
Nominated by Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Louis Brandeis
Succeeded by John Paul Stevens
3rd Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission
In office
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by James M. Landis
Succeeded by Jerome Frank
Personal details
Born William Orville Douglas
(1898-10-16)October 16, 1898
Maine Township, Minnesota, U.S.
Died January 19, 1980(1980-01-19) (aged 81)
Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Spouse(s) Mildred Riddle (m. 1923; div. 1953)
Mercedes Hester Davidson (m. 1954; div. 1963)
Joan Martin (m. 1963; div. 1966)
Cathleen Douglas Stone (née Heffernan) (m. 1966; his death 1980)[2]
Religion Presbyterian

William Orville Douglas (October 16, 1898 – January 19, 1980) served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Douglas was confirmed at the age of 40, one of the youngest justices appointed to the court. His term, lasting 36 years and 209 days (1939–75), is the longest term in the history of the Supreme Court.

Douglas holds a number of records as a Supreme Court Justice, including the most opinions. He was the 79th person appointed and confirmed to the bench of that court. In 1975 Time magazine called Douglas "the most doctrinaire and committed civil libertarian ever to sit on the court".[3]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Yale and the SEC 2
    • Politics and government 2.1
  • Supreme Court 3
    • Relationships with others at Supreme Court 3.1
    • Judicial philosophy 3.2
  • Rosenberg Case 4
  • "Trees have standing" 5
  • Environmentalism 6
    • Honors 6.1
  • Presidential politics 7
  • Impeachment attempts 8
    • Rosenberg case 8.1
    • Parvin Foundation 8.2
  • Judicial record-setter 9
  • Retirement 10
  • Nicknames 11
  • Personal life 12
  • Death 13
  • Legacy and honors 14
  • Theater 15
  • Bibliography 16
  • See also 17
  • References 18
  • Further reading 19
  • External links 20

Early life and education

Douglas was born in 1898 in Maine Township, Otter Tail County, Minnesota, the son of Julia Bickford (Fisk) and William Douglas, an itinerant Scottish Presbyterian minister from Pictou County, Nova Scotia.[4][5] His family moved to California, and then to Cleveland, Washington.

His father died in Portland, Oregon, in 1904, when Douglas was six years old. After moving the family from town to town in the West, his mother, with three young children, settled with them 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. He was the valedictorian at Yakima High School and did well enough in school to earn a scholarship to Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.[6]

While at Whitman, Douglas became a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He worked at various jobs while attending school, including 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.[7]

Douglas was elected Phi Beta Kappa,[8] participated on the debate team, and was elected as 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."[6]

He traveled to New York (taking a job tending sheep on a Chicago-bound train, in return for free passage), with hopes to attend the Columbia Law School.[6] Douglas drew on his Beta Theta Pi membership to help 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.[9]

Six months later, Douglas' funds were running out. The appointments office at the law school told him 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. Hired for similar projects, he saved $1,000 by semester's end.[9] He graduated fifth in his class in 1925, although he later claimed to have been second.

Douglas traveled to La Grande, Oregon, to marry Mildred Riddle, whom he had known in Yakima. After their return to New York, he started work at the 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 practiced law in the state. After a time of unemployment and another months-long stint at Cravath, he started teaching at Columbia Law School.

Douglas later joined the faculty of Yale Law School. There he became an expert on commercial litigation and bankruptcy, and was identified with the legal realist movement. This 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 Antonín Dvořák's Humoresque #7.[10]

Politics and government

In 1934, Douglas left Yale to join the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in a political appointee position, having been nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[11] By 1937, he had become an adviser and friend to the President and the SEC chairman.

During this time, Douglas became friends with a group of young New Dealers, including Tommy "The Cork" Corcoran and Abe Fortas. This social/political group befriended Lyndon Baines Johnson, a freshman Congressman from the 10th District of Texas. In his book The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, Robert Caro writes that in 1937, Douglas helped persuade President Roosevelt to authorize the Marshall Ford Dam, a controversial project whose approval enabled Johnson to consolidate his power as a congressman. (461)

Supreme Court

Justice William O. Douglas
Douglas's Supreme Court nomination

In 1939, Justice Louis D. Brandeis resigned from the Supreme Court, and Roosevelt nominated Douglas as his replacement on March 20.[11] 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. At the age of forty, Douglas was one of the youngest justices to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.[12]

Relationships with others at Supreme Court

Douglas was often at odds with fellow Justice Felix Frankfurter, who believed in judicial restraint and thought the court should stay out of politics.[11] Douglas did not highly value judicial consistency or stare decisis when deciding cases.[11]

Judge Richard A. Posner, who was a law clerk at the Court during the latter part of Douglas's tenure, characterized him as "a bored, distracted, uncollegial, irresponsible" Supreme Court justice, as well as "rude, ice-cold, hot-tempered, ungrateful, foul-mouthed, self-absorbed" and so abusive in "treatment of his staff to the point where his law clerks—whom he described as 'the lowest form of human life'—took to calling him "shithead" behind his back." Posner asserts also that "Douglas's judicial oeuvre is slipshod and slapdash." Yet, says Posner, Douglas's "intelligence, his energy, his academic and government experience, his flair for writing, the leadership skills that he had displayed at the SEC, and his ability to charm when he bothered to try" could have let him "become the greatest justice in history."[13]

Judicial philosophy

In general, legal scholars have noted that Douglas' judicial style was unusual in that he did not attempt to elaborate justifications for his judicial positions on the basis of text, history, or precedent. 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 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...."[14]

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 in his opinions at forced conformity with "the Establishment". 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.[11] This went too far for his old ally Black, who dissented in Griswold.

Douglas and Black also disagreed in Fortson v. Morris (1967), which cleared the path for the County Unit System, a kind of electoral college formerly used to choose the governor.

Rosenberg Case

On June 17, 1953, Douglas granted a temporary stay of execution to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who had been convicted of selling the plans for the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 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, under which the Rosenbergs were tried, a later law, the Atomic Energy 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 stay 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 reconvened the Court before the appointed date and set aside the stay. Douglas had departed for vacation, but on learning of the special session of the Court, he returned to Washington.[15] Because of widespread opposition to his decision, Douglas briefly faced impeachment proceedings in Congress, but attempts to remove him from the Court went nowhere.[16]

"Trees have standing"

In his dissenting opinion in the landmark environmental law case, Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), Justice Douglas 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.[17]

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.[17]

In the early 1970s, Douglas and his wife Cathleen were invited by Neil Compton and the Ozark Society to visit and canoe down part of the free-flowing

Government offices
Preceded by
James M. Landis
Securities and Exchange Commission Chair
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

External links

  • 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 1-56802-126-7; ISBN 978-1-56802-126-3.
  • 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 0-7910-1377-4, ISBN 978-0-7910-1377-9.
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-505835-6; ISBN 978-0-19-505835-2.
  • Martin, Fenton S. and Goehlert, Robert U., The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography, (Congressional Quarterly Books, 1990). ISBN 0-87187-554-3.
  • Murphy, Bruce Allen, Wild Bill: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas, (New York: Random House, 2003), ISBN 0-394-57628-4
  • Pritchett, C. Herman, Civil Liberties and the Vinson Court. (The University of Chicago Press, 1969) ISBN 978-0-226-68443-7; ISBN 0-226-68443-1.
  • "Adam M. Sowards".  
  • 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 1-57003-120-7.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I., The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary (New York: Garland Publishing 1994). 590 pp. ISBN 0-8153-1176-1; ISBN 978-0-8153-1176-8.
  • Woodward, Robert and Armstrong, Scott. The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court (1979). ISBN 978-0-380-52183-8; ISBN 0-380-52183-0. ISBN 978-0-671-24110-0; ISBN 0-671-24110-9; ISBN 0-7432-7402-4; ISBN 978-0-7432-7402-9.

Further reading

  1. ^ "Members of the Supreme Court of the United States".  
  2. ^ "William O. Douglas". Yakimavalleymuseum.org. 1998-10-16. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  3. ^ "The Law: The Court's Uncompromising Libertarian". Time.com. 1975-11-24. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  4. ^ . Ernest Kerr, Imprint of the Maritimes, 1959, Boston: Christopher Publishing, p. 83.
  5. ^ "William O. Douglas: 1939–1975 : SAGE Knowledge". Knowledge.sagepub.com. 2013-05-22. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  6. ^ a b c Current Biography 1941, pp233–235
  7. ^ Whitman, Alden. (1980). "Vigorous Defender of Rights," The New York Times, 20 January 1980, p. 28.
  8. ^ Supreme Court Justices Who Are Phi Beta Kappa Members, Phi Beta Kappa website, accessed Oct 4, 2009.
  9. ^ a b Current Biography 1941, p234
  10. ^ "Lyr Add: Humoresque (various versions)". Mudcat.org. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Christopher L. Tomlins (2005). The United States Supreme Court.  
  12. ^ Bowles, Nigel (1993). The Government and Politics of the United States (second ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 188.  
  13. ^ Richard A. Posner, The Anti-Hero", The New Republic (Feb. 24, 2003).
  14. ^ Douglas, William O. (1980). The Court Years. Random House. p. 8. 
  15. ^ Bruce Allen Murphy, Wild Bill: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas, pp. 324–325 (New York: Random House, 2003).
  16. ^ "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.
  17. ^ a b Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 741–43 (USSC 1972).
  18. ^ Blevins, Brooks (2001). Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers and Their Image. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. p. 235.  
  19. ^ The Ozarks Society newsletters, and books by Kenneth L. Smith.
  20. ^ Appalachian Trail Long Distance Hikers Association (2009). Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion (2009) (2009 ed.). Harpers Ferry, WV: Appalachian Trail Conservancy. p. 122.  
  21. ^ Frederick, John J. (1950). "Speaking of Books : About Fables and Mountains ... Hogs and Government ... Animals and IQ's". The Rotarian (Rotary International) 77 (1): 39–40. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ "Gifford Pinchot National Forest - Home". Fs.fed.us. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  24. ^ a b [9]
  25. ^ Simon, James F. (1980). Independent Journey: The Life of William O. Douglas (first ed.). New York: Harper & Row. p. 274.  
  26. ^ a b c Laura Kalman (1990). Abe Fortas.  
  27. ^ Gerhardt, Michael J. (2000). The Federal Impeachment Process.  
  28. ^ Lohthan, William C. (1991). The United States Supreme Court: Lawmaking in the Third Branch of Government.  
  29. ^ [10]
  30. ^ "(DV) Gerard: Conservatives, Judicial Impeachment, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas". Dissidentvoice.org. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  31. ^ The Federal Impeachment Process: A Constitutional and Historical Analysis - Michael J. Gerhardt. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  32. ^ Appel, Jacob M. (August 22, 2009). "Anticipating the Incapacitated Justice". Huffington Post. USA. Retrieved August 23, 2009. 
  33. ^ Ford, Gerald R. - A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford, Harper & Row, 1979, p. 334. ISBN 0-06-011297-2.
  34. ^ Ford, Gerald R. - A Time to Heal, p. 206.
  35. ^ Woodward, Robert and Armstrong, Scott. The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court (1979). ISBN 978-0-380-52183-8; ISBN 0-380-52183-0. ISBN 978-0-671-24110-0; ISBN 0-671-24110-9; ISBN 0-7432-7402-4; ISBN 978-0-7432-7402-9.
  36. ^ Woodward & Armstrong, pp.480–88, 526.
  37. ^ Damasio, Antonio. "Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain." Penguin Books, 1994. pg. 68–69.
  38. ^ "Supreme Court Justices William O. Douglas (1898-1980)". michaelariens.com. Retrieved Aug 8, 2015. 
  39. ^ [11]
  40. ^ [12]
  41. ^ Woodward, Bob; Armstrong, Scott (1979). The Brethren.  
  42. ^ [13]
  43. ^ [14]
  44. ^ "Newspaper Article - 'he marrying Justice". Newspapers.nl.sg. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  45. ^ Cloak and Gavel: FBI Wiretaps, Bugs, Informers, and the Supreme Court - Alexander Charns. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  46. ^ a b c "The Supreme Court: September Song". Time.com. 1966-07-29. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  47. ^ "Arlington National Cemetery - Home". Arlingtoncemetery.org. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  48. ^ http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/530/transcript
  49. ^ , YearbookHere Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the JusticesChristensen, George A. (1983) at the Wayback Machine (archived September 3, 2005) Supreme Court Historical Society
  50. ^ 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
  51. ^ a b [15] Archived May 11, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  52. ^ "60 Years Ago, Hike by Justice Douglas Saved the C&O Canal". Georgetowner.com. 2014-03-20. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  53. ^ "Associate Justice William O. Douglas - Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)". Nps.gov. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  54. ^ "Mountain—The Journey of Justice Douglas - Home". Dramatists Play Service. Retrieved 2015-06-22. 
  55. ^ [16] Archived December 13, 2008 at the Wayback Machine


See also

  • Go East, Young Man: The Early Years; The Autobiography of William O. Douglas ISBN 0-394-71165-3
  • The Court Years, 1939 to 1975: The Autobiography of William O. Douglas ISBN 0-394-49240-4
  • "Mr. Lincoln & the Negroes: The Long Road to Equality", 1963, Atheneum Press, New York. LoC card catalog number 63-17851
  • Democracy and finance: The addresses and public statements of William O. Douglas as member and chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission ISBN 0-8046-0556-4
  • Nature's Justice: Writings of William O. Douglas ISBN 0-87071-482-1
  • Strange Lands and Friendly People, by William O. Douglas ISBN 1-4067-7204-6
  • West of the Indus, by William O. Douglas, 1958, ASIN B0007DMD1O
  • Beyond the High Himalayas, by William O. Douglas, 1952, ISBN 112112979X
  • North From Malaya, by William O. Douglas ASIN B000UCP8IW
  • Points of Rebellion, by William O. Douglas ISBN 0-394-44068-4
  • An Interview with William O. Douglas by William O. Douglas (sound recording) ASIN B000S592XI
  • An Interview with William O. Douglas, Folkway Records FW 07350
  • The Mike Wallace Interview, with Mike Wallace May 11, 1958 (video)
  • The Mike Wallace Interview, May 11, 1958 (transcript)

The papers of William O. Douglas from his career as professor of law, Securities and Exchange commissioner, and associate justice of the United States Supreme Court were bequeathed by him to the Library of Congress.[55]


Mountain-The Journey of Justice Douglas is a play written by Douglass Scott which explores the life of William O. Douglas.[54]


Legacy and honors

Douglas is interred in Section 5 of Arlington National Cemetery, near the graves of eight other former Supreme Court Justices: Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Warren E. Burger, William Rehnquist, Hugo Black, Potter Stewart, William J. Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Harry Blackmun.[49][50]

Four years after retiring from the Supreme Court, William O. Douglas died at age 81 on January 19, 1980, at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC. He was survived by his fourth wife, Cathleen "Cathy" Douglas, and two children, Mildred and William Jr., from his first wife.


For much of his life, Douglas was dogged by various rumors and allegations about his private life, originating from political rivals and other detractors of his liberal legal opinions on the Court—often a matter of controversy. In one such instance in 1966, Republican Senator Robert Dole of Kansas compared his court decisions to his "bad judgment from a matrimonial standpoint",[46] and several other Republican Members of Congress introduced resolutions in the House of Representatives, though none ever passed, that called for investigation of Douglas' moral character.[46]

On July 15, 1966, Douglas married Cathleen Heffernan, then a 22-year-old student at Marylhurst College.[45] They met when he was vacationing at Mount St. Helens Lodge, a mountain wilderness lodge in Washington state at Spirit Lake, where she was working for the summer as a waitress,[46] and remained together until his death in 1980.[47] Their age difference was a subject of national controversy at the time of their marriage.[48]

At the age of nearly 65, Douglas married for the third time, to Joan Martin, then a 23-year-old law student, on August 5, 1963.[44] They divorced in 1966.

On December 14, 1954, he married his second wife, Mercedes Davidson (née Hester), the divorced wife of a former Assistant Secretary of the Interior.[43] They divorced nine years later in 1963.

On October 2, 1949, Douglas had thirteen of his ribs broken after he was thrown from a horse and tumbled down a rocky hillside.[39] Due to his injuries, Douglas did not return to the court until March 1950,[40] or take part in many of that term's cases.[41] Four months after his return to the court, Douglas had to be hospitalized again due to his being kicked by a horse.[42]

Douglas' first wife was Mildred Riddle, a teacher at North Yakima High School, whom he married on August 16, 1923. They had two children, Mildred and William Jr.[38] They were divorced on July 20, 1953. William Douglas Jr. became an actor, playing Gerald Zinser in PT 109.

Grave of William O. Douglas at Arlington National Cemetery.

Personal life

During his time on the Supreme Court, Douglas picked up a number of nicknames from both admirers and detractors. The most common epithet was "Wild Bill", which was in reference to his independent and often unpredictable stances and cowboy-style mannerisms—although many of the latter were considered by some to be affectations for the consumption of the press.


[37], a neuropsychological presentation which leads an affected person to be unaware and unable to acknowledge disease in himself. It often results in defects in reasoning, decision making, emotions, and feeling.anosognosia One commentator has attributed some of his behavior after his stroke to [36] Douglas maintained that he could assume

Ford also hosted Justice Douglas and his wife Cathleen as honored guests at a White House state dinner later that same month, writing of the occasion later: "We had had differences in the past, but I wanted to stress that bygones were bygones."[34]

"May I express on behalf of all our countrymen this nation's great gratitude for your more than thirty-six years as a member of the Supreme Court. Your distinguished years of service are unequaled in all the history of the Court."[33]

Douglas' formal resignation was submitted, as required by Federal protocols, to his long-time political nemesis, and then President, Gerald Ford. In his response, Ford put aside previous differences, and paid tribute to the retiring justice, writing:

At age 76 on December 31, 1974, while on vacation with his wife Cathleen in the Bahamas, Douglas suffered a debilitating stroke in the right hemisphere of his brain. It paralyzed his left leg and forced him to use a wheelchair. Douglas, severely disabled, insisted on continuing to participate in Supreme Court affairs despite his obvious incapacity. Seven of his fellow justices voted to postpone until the next term any argued case in which Douglas' vote might make a difference.[32] At the urging of Fortas, Douglas finally retired on November 12, 1975, after 36 years of service.

Since the 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".[26]


During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice Douglas set a number of records, all of which stand. He sat on the U.S. Supreme Court for more than thirty-six years (1939–75), longer than any other Justice. During those years, he wrote some thirty books in addition to his opinions and dissenting opinions. He gave more speeches than any other Justice, and his record for sidebar productivity is unlikely ever to be topped. Douglas also holds the record among Justices for having had the most wives (four) and the most divorces (three) while on the bench.

Judicial record-setter

As 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.[31] 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.

The hearings began in late April 1970. Congressman Ford was the main witness, and attacked Douglas' "liberal opinions"; his "defense of the 'filthy' film," the controversial Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow) (1970); and his ties with the aforementioned Parvin. Douglas was also 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 by some critics. 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 publishing an article in Evergreen Review, which he claimed was known to publish photographs of naked women. The Republican congressmen, however, refused to give the majority Democrats copies of the magazines described, 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?"[30]

Some scholars[27][28] 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. In April 1970, Congressman Ford moved to impeach Douglas in an attempt to hit back at the Senate. House Judiciary Chairman Emanuel Celler handled the case carefully and there did not appear to be evidence of any criminal conduct on the part of Douglas. (Attorney General John N. Mitchell and the Nixon administration worked to gather evidence to the contrary.)[29] Congressman Ford moved forward in the first major attempt to impeach a Supreme Court Justice in the modern era.

Douglas became president of the Parvin Foundation. 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' lifestyle, Representative Ford was also mindful that Douglas protégé Abe Fortas was forced to resign because of ties to a similar foundation.[26] Fortas would later say that he "resigned to save Douglas," thinking that the dual investigations of himself and Douglas would stop with his resignation.[26]

Justice Douglas maintained a busy speaking and publishing schedule to supplement his income. He became severely burdened financially due to a bitter divorce and settlement with his first wife. He gained additional financial difficulties after divorces and settlements with his second and third wives.

Parvin Foundation

On June 17, 1953, Representative Rosenberg case, introduced a resolution to impeach the Justice. The resolution was referred the next day to the Judiciary Committee to investigate the charges. On July 7, 1953 the committee voted to end the investigation.

Rosenberg case

Political opponents made two attempts to remove Douglas from the Supreme Court, both unsuccessful.

Impeachment attempts

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' close associate Tommy Corcoran was later heard to ask, "Why be a number two man to a number two man?"[25] Truman selected Senator Alben W. Barkley and the two won the election.

By 1948, Douglas' presidential aspirations were rekindled by Truman's low popularity, after he had succeeded Roosevelt in 1945. Many Democrats, believing that Truman could not be elected in November, began trying 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 campaigned for the nomination for a short time, but he soon withdrew his name from consideration.

After the convention, Douglas' supporters spread the rumor that the note sent to Hannegan had read "Bill Douglas or Harry Truman," not the other way around.[24] These supporters claimed that Hannegan, a Truman supporter, feared that Douglas' nomination would drive southern white voters away from the ticket (Douglas had a strong anti-segregation record on the Supreme Court) and had switched the names to suggest that Truman was Roosevelt's real choice.[24]

Five days before the vice presidential nominee was to be chosen at the convention, on 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 Hannegan released the letter to the convention on July 20, the nomination went without incident, and Truman was nominated on the second ballot. Douglas received two votes on the second ballot and none on the first.

When, in early 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided not to 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, 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.

Presidential politics

  • He was elected to the Ecology Hall of Fame for his dedication to conservation.


Due to Douglas' active role in advocating the preservation and protection of wilderness across the United States, he was nicknamed "Wild Bill." Douglas was a friend and frequent guest of Harry Randall Truman, owner of the Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake in Washington.

In 1962, Douglas wrote a glowing review of Evergreen magazine. Two years later, Justice Douglas helped launch the nation's first law review dedicated solely to environmental issues by publishing a paper in Lewis & Clark Law School's new law review, Environmental Law.

He 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 right-of-way as a national park. As it was being discussed, he challenged the editorial board of The Washington Post to go with him for a walk on the canal after the newspaper had published opinions supporting Congress's plan to fill and pave the canal into a road.[22] His efforts convinced the editorial board to change its stance and helped save the park.[22]

Douglas' review contributed to the success of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a book which marked an important turning point for the environmental movement.

In his autobiographical Of Men and Mountains (1950), Douglas discusses his close childhood connections with nature.[21]

His love for the environment carried through to his judicial reasoning. [20], a guide published by the The Thru-Hiker's Companion Douglas was a self-professed outdoorsman. According to


[19]. The act that soon followed designated the Buffalo River as America's first National River.Corps of Army Engineers This decision was opposed by the region's [18]