“I would vote to impeach him now”

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On April 15, 1970, Ford spoke in the House and began a speech making the public case against Douglas. Sounding like he was reading an oppo research binder, the congressman pointed to some of Douglas’s most provocative writings outside of court, such as his book, “Points of Rebellion.”

“Recently there appeared on the stands a little black book with the autograph, ‘William O. Douglas,’ scrawled on the cover in red,” Ford said. “Its title is ‘Points of Rebellion’ and its thesis is that violence can be justified and perhaps only the revolutionary overthrow of the ‘establishment’ can save the country.

“The sweetest thing I can say about this 97-page tome is that it reads quickly. If it had been written by an activist sophomore, as he easily could, it would of course never have found a publisher of prestige like Random House. It is a fuzzy harangue clearly intended to give historical legitimacy to the militant hippie-yippie movement and to testify that a 71-year-old Supreme Court justice does not one with them.

In this book, Douglas wrote: “We must realize that the Establishment of today is the new George III, whether he will continue to adhere to his tactics, we do not know. If this is the case, reparation, honored in tradition, is also a revolution. (George III was King of England when the American colonies declared independence.)

Ford also lambasted Douglas for writing – while on the Supreme Court – in magazines such as Avant-gardewhose publisher, Ralph Ginzburg, had been convicted in 1963 of violating federal obscenity laws.

“When I first encountered the facts of Mr. Justice Douglas’ involvement in pornographic publications and joining the hippie-yippie style revolution, I was inclined to dismiss his surly behavior as the first sign of senility,” Ford said. “But I think I underestimated justice.”

“In case there were any ‘square’ Americans who were too stupid to understand the message Mr. Justice Douglas was trying to tell us, he has now removed any possible misunderstanding,” Ford added, citing Douglas’s writings for another post, Evergreen Review. As House members flipped through copies of the risque magazine, Ford said: “I am simply unable to describe the lecherous advertisements, the perverse suggestions, the downright filthy illustrations and the shocking and execrable four-letter language that it used.”

Ford argued that Douglas should have recused himself from Ginzburg’s appeal of a $75,000 libel judgment won by Senator Barry Goldwater, dating back to a 1964 article in another Ginzburg publication that compared the presidential candidate from the GOP to Adolph Hitler. In January 1970, the Supreme Court denied Ginzburg’s request to review the judgment; Douglas was one of two dissenting judges. Ford noted that Douglas received $350 for his article in Avant-garde.

“Writing byline articles for notorious publications by a convicted pornographer is bad enough. Taking money from them is worse. To refuse to disqualify in this case is inexcusable,” Ford charged.

And Ford made elliptical reference to Douglas’ messy personal life, including his four marriages, the last two to women in their early twenties when Douglas was in his sixties: “His private life, to the extent where she does not bring the Supreme Court into disrepute, is her own business. You don’t have to be an ardent admirer of a judge or justice, or an advocate of their lifestyle, to recognize their right to be elevated or remain on the bench.

Additionally, Ford suggested that the judge, who was appointed to the court by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, may have ties to the Mafia and gambling figures. He called for an investigation into the behavior of Douglas, adding, “I would vote to impeach him now.”

The following day, more than 100 members of the House approved a resolution calling for the creation of a special committee to investigate whether to impeach Douglas. About half of the members who signed were Democrats, but they were mostly southern conservatives.

Ford’s attack on justice, framed in particularly personal terms, was out of place for the normally genial Midwestern lawmaker. And there was a reason for that: Ford was working at the behest of a much more naked politician — Nixon, who was still angry with Democrats for rejecting his first two Supreme Court nominees.

The White House denied any involvement in the anti-Douglas effort at the time. But William Saxbe, a Republican senator from Ohio who became Nixon’s last attorney general, wrote in his memoirs that Nixon “siced” Ford on Douglas “in retaliation and probably in a fit of anger” after losing those votes.

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