A Higher Standard - Justice William O. Douglas

A Higher Standard

Submitted in fulfillment of

the requirements for

American History

High School

January 1990

The Attempts to Impeach Justice William O. Douglas

I. Introduction
II. First attempt to impeach
A. Charges
B. Leaders of attempt
C. Reasons for dismissal
III. Second attempt to impeach
A. Charges
B. Leaders of attempt
C. Reasons for dismissal
IV. Conclusion

William. Douglas was the longest term Supreme Court Justice ever in the history of the United States. He was a prolific author, often writing about nature and the wilderness. Before his appointment to the Supreme Court, he was an advisor to President Roosevelt on the Securities and Exchange Commission. After Roosevelt's nomination he was appointed a Justice on the Supreme Court, The highest court of the United States.

During his thirty-six year term as a Justice Mr. Douglas heard rumors of his impeachment four times. The first three weren't very serious and were never recognized by Douglas himself. They included a call for his resignation after he stayed the executions of the Rosenthals in 1953, a call, once again for resignation, because of his connections with the Parvin Foundation, and questions being raised about his "unconventional" lifestyle. The fourth, final, and most serious attempt was the first to be reluctantly recognized by Douglas himself.

Douglas served as president of the Parvin Foundation's board of directors. For his travel expenses and to donate to various charities as he saw fit, Douglas received a twelve thousand dollar a year honorarium. Douglas had previously been investigated for his ties to the Parvin Foundation, a group Rep. Ford (R) had said was linked to "known gambling figures and mafia types."(1) Douglas resigned as president of the board and cut off all dealings with the Parvin foundation in 1962.(2) These ties to the Parvin foundation had been investigated as a part of the third impeachment attempt.

Two events of 1970 caused a newly vitalized call for Douglas' impeachment. Douglas published his book Points of Rebellion early in the year. The second event, far from Douglas' control, was the rejection of Carswell, President Nixon's nomination to fill an empty seat on the supreme court. Carswell's rejection followed on the heels of the rejection of Heyworth, another Nixon nominee.

Heyworth's ethics were debated during the discussion of his nomination. During this debate Rep. Gerald R. Ford said "If the Senate votes against a nominee for lack of sensitivity, it should apply the same standards to the sitting Justices."(2) Ford went on to assure the press he wasn't meaning to hold Douglas hostage for Heyworth's nomination. A New York Times editorial had this to say about Ford's statement. "The transparency of Mr. Ford's moves does him no credit, either as a statesman or tactician"(2) Early in 1970 Heyworth's nomination was rejected.

Early in April of 1970 President Nixon nominated Carswell as a Supreme Court Justice. Carswell did not have the qualifications necessary to be a justice.(2) He lacked the level of education needed and supported segregation. After Carswell's rejection Vice-President Spiero Agnew said that Haynsworth and Carswell had "been denied seats on the bench for statements that are far less reprehensible, in my opinion, than those by Justice Douglas"(2)The first real hint of the seriousness of the rumors about impeachment of Justice Douglas came in the House of Rep. an April 15, 1970. Rep. Ford used material supplied by Attorney General John Mitchell from F.B.I. and C.I.A. files to suggest Justice Douglas should be impeached. Ford said Douglas' ties with the Parvin Foundation and Mr. Parvin made the Justice a "well-paid moonlighter for an organization whose ties to the international gambling fraternity have never been sufficiently explored."(1)

Ford proceeded to attack Justice Douglas' association with Avant Garde magazine. Douglas had been paid 300 dollars for two articles he had written for the magazine. In 1966 and again in 1970 Ralph Ginzburg, publisher of Avant Garde, had been involved in cases before the Court. Both times the court had ruled against Ginzburg, but Douglas dissented. Ford said accepting this minute amount of money presented a conflict of interest. Furthermore, Ford questioned if it was proper for a Justice to have his work published in such a disreputable magazine. Ralph Ginzburg had twice been successfully sued for libel.

The last point Ford attacked was Douglas' most recent book Points of Rebellion. Ford said the book supported radical attacks on American society. The book, Ford said, also inspired a lack of respect for traditions. Portions of Points were reprinted in the Evergreen Review - right next to pictures Ford said could only be referred to as pornographic.

In his pointless ramblings Ford also defined what he thought were impeachable offenses. He said, with total disregard for the constitution, that an impeachable offense was whatever Congress considers it to be at that time. Conviction, Ford said, should be whatever offenses two-thirds of the Senate believed warranted removal from office. With this, Ford an examination of Douglas to see if his behavior is what we want in our Judges. "A higher standard," Ford said, " is expected of federal judges than any other 'civil officers' of the United States."

As Ford was speaking , Rep. Andrew Jacobs (D - Indiana) walked to the well of the House and put a resolution to impeach Douglas in the hopper. With this action, Jacobs transfered the investigation from a select committee, favored by Ford, to the judiciary committee. The judiciary committee was lead by a liberal democrat. He was also the head of the judiciary subcommittee which was charged with the responsibility of the investigation. The subcommittee drug the investigation out through November. Thus, they allowed the congressmen to be free from "election-year politics" on the issue of Douglas.

In light of these new actions, friends finally convinced Douglas to seek counsel and take the charges seriously. Mr. Rafkin was hired as Douglas' attorney. His first action was to seclude Douglas, preventing him from writing, making public appearances, or making speeches. He then scoured Douglas' office for all non-court related documents so he could respond to the charges. Documentation in hand he tracked down all the rumors and met them with a legal response. He pointed out no ties had been made between Douglas and organized crime. Rafkin also pointed out that Douglas' publisher had had his work published in Evergreen Review, not Douglas himself. Finally, Rafkin responded to the objections to Points of Rebellion. Rafkin pointed out that contrary to Ford's belief the first amendment applied to Justices as well as all citizens.


Goode, Stephen
1982 The Controversial Court. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Douglas, William O.
1980 The Court Years: An Autobiography of William O. Douglas. Random House Inc., New York.

Ernst, Morris L.
1973 The Great Reversals: Tales of the Supreme Court. Weybright and Talley, New York.

Simon, James F.
1980 Independent Journey. Harper and Row, San Francisco, California.

Shanayerson, Robert
1986 The Illustrated History of The Supreme Court of The United States. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.


1 Comment


I appreciate that Gerald Ford might have been a decent man in his later years .... yes he did a smart thing to pardon that crook Nixon to save the country a lot of grief ..... but he was a pure political animal in his years as a congressman.

But he was nowhere near the greatness that has been attributed to him in recent days .... and nobody seems to remember one of Ford's most ridiculous efforts.

He was the man who attempted to impeach one of the greatest Suprme Court justices, William O. Douglas on trumped up charges.

And I wonder how he got enough money as a Congressman to buy a multi-million dollar house in Beaver Creek Colorado.