- NAME: William O. Douglas
- OCCUPATION: Educator, Lawyer, Judge, Supreme Court Justice, Government Official
- BIRTH DATE: October 16, 1898
- DEATH DATE: January 19, 1980
- Did You Know?: At age 40, William O. Douglas was the second youngest person to be appointed to the Supreme Court when he was confirmed in 1939.
- EDUCATION: Yakima High School, Columbia University Law School, Whitman College
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Maine, Minnesota
- PLACE OF DEATH: Washington, D.C.
- Full Name: William Orville Douglas
- AKA: William O. Douglas
- AKA: William Douglas
Best Known For
William O. Douglas was a legal scholar and often controversial 20th century Supreme Court justice known for his civil liberties advocacy.
Think you know about Biography?
Answer questions and see how you rank against other players.Play Now
Born on October 16, 1898, in Maine, Minnesota, William O. Douglas studied and taught law before becoming SEC chairman and being appointed to the Supreme Court by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Douglas became a major advocate of civil libertarianism during his decades-long career on the bench while being known as a difficult figure in his personal life. He died on January 19, 1980.
"The Fifth Amendment is an old friend and a good friend ... one of the great landmarks in man's struggle to be free of tyranny, to be decent and civilized."
"What I knew about my appointment to the Court I learned largely after the appointment had been made. I had never had any idea of being a judge. It never entered into any of my calculations. I never even thought of it as a remote possibility, either being on that Court or any other court."
"It's a rather common experience for judges to change as a result of exposure to new or different problems or to increased dosages of old problems."
William Orville Douglas was born on October 16, 1898, in Maine, Minnesota, with the family later moving to Yakima, Washington. Sickly as a child, his mother encouraged him to be physically active outdoors, and he developed a deep awareness of the environment.
Douglas attended Whitman College and taught high school before entering Columbia University's law program, graduating in the mid-1920s and eventually joining the school's faculty. He later joined Yale University's faculty, and by 1937, during the Depression era, became chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
His SEC post saw Douglas working with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who nominated the legal expert to the Supreme Court to fill the spot left by Louis Brandeis in early 1939. Douglas was confirmed and took his seat in April of that same year.
Douglas established a career that saw him staunchly advocating civil libertarianism, joining friend and ally Justice Hugo Black in championing the Bill of Rights. He was known for his dissent in the case of 1951's Dennis v. U.S., with Douglas defending the free-speech rights of American Communist members, as well as his opinion on cases like 1965's Griswold v. Connecticut, which supported the right for a married couple to access contraception.
Douglas was also against governmental wiretapping, the Vietnam War and the administration of President Richard Nixon in general. He continued to be a lover of nature who nonetheless had a reputation for expecting an exacting, exhausting level of work from his law clerks.
Douglas also faced multiple impeachment proceedings during his career, unsuccessfully spearheaded by then House of Representatives minority leader Gerald Ford.
Douglas went on to hold the record for the longest tenure on the Supreme Court, retiring in November 1975—after more than 36 years on the bench and highly resistant to leaving his post—due to a stroke. He died on January 19, 1980, in Washington, D.C.
Douglas was known to have had a tumultuous personal life. A reputed boozer and womanizer who was married four times, he was estranged from his two children and struggled financially, having to take on speaking work and allegedly utilizing stock market insider information to garner money.
Books on his life include Douglas's two autobiographies as well as Nature's Justice: Writings of William O. Douglas (2000), edited by James M. O'Fallon, and Wild Bill: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas (2003), by Bruce Allen Murphy. (The latter work disputes some of the claims that Douglas made about his life.) Douglas also wrote books on the ecology and travel.
© 2014 A+E Networks. All rights reserved.
profile name: William O. Douglas profile occupation:
Sign in with Facebook to see how you and your friends are connected to famous icons.
Your Friends' Connections
Included In These Groups
Famous Academics 451 people in this group
Famous Teachers 230 people in this group
Famous Libras 571 people in this group