Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Not An Ornament To His Profession

Judge Richard Posner on Justice William O. Douglas:

Apart from being a flagrant liar, Douglas was a compulsive womanizer, a heavy drinker, a terrible husband to each of his four wives, a terrible father to his two children, and a bored, distracted, uncollegial, irresponsible, and at times unethical Supreme Court justice who regularly left the Court for his summer vacation weeks before the term ended. Rude, ice-cold, hot-tempered, ungrateful, foul-mouthed, self-absorbed, and devoured by ambition, he was also financially reckless--at once a big spender, a tightwad, and a sponge--who, while he was serving as a justice, received a substantial salary from a foundation established and controlled by a shady Las Vegas businessman. ... The deterioration manifested itself in paranoid delusions, senile rages and sulks, sadistic treatment of his staff to the point where his law clerks--whom he described as "the lowest form of human life"--took to calling him "shithead" behind his back, and increasingly bizarre behavior toward women, which included an assault in his office on an airline stewardess who had unsuspectingly accepted an invitation from this kindly seeming old man to visit him there....

One can be a bad person and a good judge, just as one can be a good person and a bad judge....Douglas was not a good judge... [T]aken as a whole, Douglas's judicial oeuvre is slipshod and slapdash. Here are typical criticisms, none of them by conservatives. "His opinions were not models; they appear to be hastily written; and they are easy to ignore" (Lucas Powe). Their carelessness is rooted in "indifference to the texture of legal analysis, which arises from an exclusively political conception of the judicial role" (Yosal Rogat). "Douglas was the foremost anti-judge of his time" (G. Edward White). A careful study of his tax opinions by Bernard Wolfman and others has documented Douglas's unreasoning hostility to the Internal Revenue Service and accuses him of "refusing to judge in tax cases."

And Posner's just warming up!

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