SPEAKING OF THINGS like those in power then and now, William O. Douglas remarked, “The privacy and dignity of our citizens (are) being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen—a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a (person’s) life.”
Douglas’s term as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Douglas lasted almost thirty-seven years (1939–1975), the longest term in the history of the Supreme Court.
Here are a few more of his observations:
“Those in power need checks and restraints lest they come to identify the common good for their own tastes and desires, and their continuation in office as essential to the preservation of the nation.”
“Once the government can demand of a publisher the names of the purchasers of his publication, the free press as we know it disappears. Then the specter of a government agent will look over the shoulder of everyone who reads.… Fear of criticism goes with every person into the bookstall. The subtle, imponderable pressures of the orthodox lay hold. Some will fear to read what is unpopular, what the powers-that-be dislike.… [Then] fear will take the place of freedom in the libraries, book stores, and homes in the land.”
“The framers of the constitution knew human nature as well as we do. They too had lived in dangerous days; they too knew the suffocating influence of orthodoxy and standardized thought. They weighed the compulsions for restrained speech and thought against the abuses of liberty. They chose liberty.”
“Only when there is a wilderness can man harmonize his inner being with the wavelengths of the earth. When the earth, its products, its creatures, become his concern, man is caught up in a cause greater than his own life and more meaningful. Only when man loses himself in an endeavor of that magnitude does he walk and live with humanity and reverence.”