Built by Association: Justice William O. Douglas

Justice William O. Douglas, inscription to Olla Bennett

Justice William O. Douglas’s inscribed copy (to Ola Bennett) of his book Of Men and Mountains (1950).

Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980) was the longest-serving member of the Supreme Court of the United States. He worked his way through school, and eventually graduated fifth in the class of 1925 at Columbia Law School. He practiced briefly with a major firm before leaving to teach law, first at Columbia and then at Yale. He entered government service in 1934 and became an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. When FDR appointed him to replace Justice Louis D. Brandeis in 1939, Douglas, at 40, was among the youngest justices ever to join the Supreme Court.

Douglas wrote the opinions in many spotlight cases, including Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949) and Griswold v. Connecticut, 81 U.S. 479 (1965). In 1950, after he granted a temporary stay of execution to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg—convicted as Soviet spies—Congress briefly considered impeaching him. And in 1970 future President Gerald R. Ford led impeachment hearings against Douglas, partly because of his business associations but also because of his “liberal opinions.”

Douglas was a prolific author on nonlegal matters, writing numerous books on history, politics, foreign relations, and—one of his favorite subjects—conservation, including A Wilderness Bill of Rights (1965) and the book displayed here, Of Men and Mountains (1950).

Douglas inscribed this copy “with warm regards and best wishes” to Ola Bennett, who at the time was an administrative assistant in the Farm Labor section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

          – Bryan A. Garner

“Built by Association: Books Once Owned by Notable Judges and Lawyers, from Bryan A. Garner’s Collection”, an exhibit curated by Bryan A. Garner with Mike Widener, is on display until December 16, 2013 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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