9th Circuit Judge Highlights Judge William O. Douglas’ Environmental Campaigns

Justice William O. Douglas might be known for his fiery opinions, turbulent personal life and long-running presidential ambitions. But Judge M. Margaret McKeown highlights her groundbreaking environmental advocacy in Citizen Justice: The Environmental Legacy of William O. Douglas, Public Advocate and Conservation Champion.

McKeown, who sits on the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, was hiking when she came across a shack belonging to two Justice friends, Olaus and Margaret Murie. Learning about the Muries’ history as conservationists and conservationists set her on a path that led to Citizen justiceshe tells the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles in this episode of The Modern Law Library.

Considering that he had the right to defend as a citizen the causes he believed in – despite his seat on the United States Supreme Court – Douglas did not hesitate to lobby federal agencies and the general public to protect wild areas of development. McKeown discusses how that could conflict with the code of ethics to which she and other federal judges — but not U.S. Supreme Court justices — are bound, and the implications for public trust.

Douglas’ childhood in Yakima, Wash., was marred by frailty and illness, but he became an avid outdoorsman and hiker through his teens and adulthood, keeping a fast-paced, roaming clip of many kilometers per day. One of his favorite places to hike in the Washington, DC area was along the disused Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. When the editorial board of The Washington Post argued for the construction of a boardwalk over the old canal, Douglas wrote a letter vigorously opposing it and inviting editors to join him in a hike of 187 miles the length of the C&O Canal to see the desert he wanted to protect. It became the first of his “protest hikes” and marked one of his favorite methods of convincing others of the importance of conservation: taking people camping, fishing and hiking in areas wild.

A loyal New Dealer, one of the few areas of disagreement between Douglas and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was FDR’s shift toward conservation rather than preservation of public lands, McKeown says. She discusses the development of conservation and environmental protection movements, in which Douglas was a powerful player. Douglas was even the first judge to use the word “environmental” in a Supreme Court opinion. She also delves into Douglas’s positions on Native American rights, which were supportive, if not opposed, to fish interests.

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