William O. Douglas: Dissent in Dennis v. United States


In William O. Douglas’s years on the bench, a variety of cases came before the Supreme Court that fundamentally affected American public life and the concepts of individual and civil rights. His long tenure was also marked by major international conflicts, such as World War II, the cold war, and the Vietnam War, as well as major domestic movements, notably the civil rights movement. His opinions demonstrate his judicial priorities—protection of civil and individual rights, including the right to privacy; near-absolute deference to the First Amendment; and environmental protection—and show how he sought to fit his opinions to what he saw as the social reality that underlay the question. Douglas addressed cases not just from within the narrow confines of case-law precedent but also from what he saw as the social ramifications of the particular questions contested in the cases. In the case of Dennis v. United States, the majority upheld the conviction of eleven people on...

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William O. Douglas (Library of Congress)

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