Sunday, September 25, 2016

William O. Douglas

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"Common sense often makes good law." William O. Douglas, 1957.

I was well aware of William O. Douglas's long tenure on the Supreme Court. He was selected to serve on the Highest Court in the Land by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939, just a couple years after the failed court packing scheme in which FDR attempted to expand the number of judges to ensure his New Deal programs would not be shut down. Douglas became the longest serving judge in Supreme Court history, serving thirty five years. During his time on the court he wrote thirty books and numerous opinions.

He was an unconventional judge, writing his opinions quickly and using a variety of techniques, earning him the nickname Wild Bill. He was in the minority opinion often. He was a strong voice for First Amendment rights. He was a factor in a number of historic cases, upholding FDR's internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, claiming a right of privacy in the "penumbras" of the Constitution that later was used in part to legalize abortion, and he granted a temporary stay of execution to the Rosenbergs, who had been convicted of selling atomic bomb information to the Soviets.

Long story short, this Douglas played a major role in twentieth century America. I will spare writing more about his accomplishments here as there is plenty of great sources that cover that ground. The real question is, what is he doing on this site?

A couple of weeks ago I was eating at Tilly T's and ran into Norman Barge. During our conversation he brought up Douglas and his connection to Otter Tail County. He left me some additional information in my mailbox at church. It turns out that Douglas was born in Maine Township in Otter Tail County in 1898. A quick search did not give me the precise location of his first home, but I have a couple of students who will be researching it and post it in the next week.