Quotations by Douglas, William O.


Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us?

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
(Attributed)

Statement on arrests of protesters for disorderly conduct; recalled on his retirement (12 Nov 1975)

Added on 18-Nov-08 | Last updated 18-Nov-08
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The Fifth Amendment is an old friend, and a good one. It is one of the great landmarks in man’s struggle to be free of tyranny, to be decent and civilized. It is our way to escape torture. It protects man against any form of Inquisition. It is part of our respect for the dignity of man.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
An Almanac of Liberty (15 Feb 1954)
Added on 31-Jul-13 | Last updated 15-Jul-13
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Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 US 470 (1965) (7 Jun 1965)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Living in Los Angeles is not blameworthy per se.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Lambert v. California (1958)
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I would give the broad sweep of the First Amendment full support. I have the same confidence in the ability of our people to reject noxious literature as I have in their capacity to sort out the true from the false in theology, economics, or any other field.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, dissenting opinion (1957)
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Thus, if the First Amendment means anything in the field, it must allow protests even against the moral code that the standard of the day sets for the community. In other words, literature should not be suppressed merely because it offends the moral code of the censor.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, dissenting opinion (1957)
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Government should be concerned with anti-social conduct, not with utterances.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Roth vs. United States, 354 U.S. 476, dissenting opinion (1957)
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The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Roth vs. United States, 354 U.S. 476, dissenting opinion (1957)
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At the constitutional level where we work, ninety percent of any decision is emotional. The rational part of us supplies the reasons for supporting our predilections.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
The Court Years, 1939-1975 (1980)

Comment to Justice Potter Stewart on the arrest of Vietnam War veterans during a peaceful protest on the steps of the Supreme Court building.
Added on 23-May-08 | Last updated 23-May-08
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Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
The Nieman Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, “The One Un-Amercan Act” (Jan. 1953)
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The Fathers of the Constitution were not unaware of the varied and extreme views of religious sects, of the violence of disagreement among them, and of the lack of any one religious creed on which all men would agree. They fashioned a charter of government which envisaged the widest possible toleration of conflicting views. Man’s relation to his God was made no concern of the state. He was granted the right to worship as he pleased and to answer to no man for the verity of his religious views. The religious views espoused by respondents might seem incredible, if not preposterous, to most people. But if those doctrines are subject to trial before a jury charged with finding their truth or falsity, then the same can be done with the religious beliefs of any sect.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944), majority opinion

Full text.

Added on 2-Dec-08 | Last updated 2-Dec-08
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Free speech is not to be regulated like diseased cattle and impure butter. The audience (in this case the judge or jury) that hissed yesterday may applaud today, even for the same performance.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Dissent, Kingsley Books, Inc. v. Brown, 354 U.S. 436, 447 (1957)

The court ruled 5-4 to allow banning the sale of obscene books.
Added on 5-May-08 | Last updated 5-May-08
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The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedoms.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Dissent, Public Utilities Commission of the District of Columbia v. Pollack, 343 U.S. 451 (1952) (

The 7-1 ruling held that a streetcar company's playing of the radio was constitutional, and that the PUC could regulate same.
Added on 2-May-08 | Last updated 2-May-08
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Freedom of thought, which includes freedom of religious belief, is basic in a society of free men. It embraces the right to maintain theories of life and of death and of the hereafter which are rank heresy to followers of the orthodox faiths. Heresy trials are foreign to our Constitution. Men may believe what they cannot prove. They may not be put to the proof of their religious doctrines or beliefs. Religious experiences which are as real as life to some may be incomprehensible to others.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Majority opinion, United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944)

Full text.

Added on 18-Aug-08 | Last updated 18-Aug-08
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As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight. And it is in such twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air — however slight — lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Speech to Young Lawyers Section of the Washington State Bar Association (10 Sep. 1976)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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