THE DOUGLAS OPINIONS by Vent--Ed. Countryman


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MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting."" You'll find that heading on most of the opinions here, and it's possible to track the William O. Douglas loner-individualist attack throughout--but don't count on much help from the Harvard Law professor editor. Countryman selects nearly 100 of Douglas' 1200+ Supreme Court pronouncements, groups them into ten internally chronological issue compartments (""Citizenship,"" ""Privacy,"" ""Equal Treatment,"" ""Due Process,"" ""Those Who Govern,"" etc.), and surrounds them with dry-as-dust, footnoted-to-the-hilt case backgrounds and fact summaries (in eye-wearying italics). But, notwithstanding a wispy general introduction and occasional connecting remarks between closely related disputes, what seem most conspicuous are the editorial lacunae: no elucidation of a Douglas tone, logic, or philosophy; no weighing, measuring, or historical placement (the introduction reminds us that many ""of the dissents of Douglas became the law,"" but the text rarely documents that); no critical analyses or appreciations; no sense of a changing Court or a country divided. So the dissenting, concurring, and majority opinions from 36 years of judgment must Stand on their own, and, though Douglas-the-writer is no Holmes or Learned Hand or Cardozo, Douglas-the-defender (guarding the rights of I Am Curious (Yellow), soap-box psychos, illegitimate children, private religion, public non-religion, the Rosenbergs, contraceptive users, indicted soldiers, censored teachers, Cambodian farmers) provides a powerful cumulative effect independent of any stylistic identity. In these repetitive but simple, direct, blunt, and sharp solo arias (""I fear the judiciary has been seduced""), Douglas labored to protect the Bill of Rights from the ""timid, watered-down, emasculated"" interpretations of his brother Justices (in only about fifteen cases does he speak for the majority) and to protect the individual--the proper ""keeper of his tastes, beliefs, and ideas""--from government branches all too eager to climb on his back or lean over his shoulder. ""It is We the People who are sovereign,"" he wrote crudely-beautifully, and we the people can either wander through this generous but cluttered sampling or wait for a format that does the Justice more justice.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1977
Publisher: Random House