1. Douglas had sold an article to Fact magazine and had received payment for it when the publisher, Ralph Ginzburg, was involved in litigation in federal courts which ultimately reached the Supreme Court. There Douglas dissented from the majority which upheld the lower court’s libel judgment against Ginzburg.
2. Douglas had received substantial amounts of money from the Parvin Foundation, which he headed for nearly a decade. Although Ford did not claim that Douglas had himself associated with gangsters, he pointed out that Albert Parvin had significant interests in various gambling casinos and was often seen with known criminals.
3. Douglas had also “worked” for the Center for Democratic Institutions and had participated in various “leftist” events there, including meetings of New Leftists and leftist militants. Ford did not mention that Chief Justice Burger had appeared at some center functions and that in fact Douglas had not participated in the particular events involving the leftists.
4. Points of Rebellion” constituted an un-American inflammatory tract urging “militant hippies” on to further disorders.
Unspoken, but certainly in back of the charges, were Douglas’s various marriages, including his latest to the very young Cathleen Heffernan, as well as the many rumors about his sexual exploits.
Did these constitute impeachable offenses? The Constitution is very vague on what grounds on what grounds a federal judge may be impeached, but this did not bother Ford. “An impeachable offense,” he declared, “is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
Ford wanted a special committee to look into these charges, but before he could act, Andrew Jacobs, Jr. (D-Ind) introduced a resolution to impeach Douglas. The liberal Jacobs had no desire to have Douglas impeached, but by his action, he transferred the investigation from a select committee, which might have been packed, to the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by the liberal Emanuel Celler of New York.
Throughout the next several months, as a subcommittee looked into the charges, Douglas maintained an outward calm. But as these letters indicate, he took the threat seriously and provided his counsel with enormous data on what he had done, when, where, and for how much. In the end, the strategy planned by New York attorney and former judge Simon Rifkind worked; they met every one of Ford’s vague charges with specific responses. The subcommittee, by a party vote, found no grounds for impeachment. Commentators throughout the hearings said they doubted if what Douglas had done would lead a Democratic Congress to remove him and give Richard Nixon another seat on the Court.
Unlike CJ Corona, who refused to release his SALNs and other financial records until they were subpoenaed by the Senate, Justice Douglas instructed his lawyer, Atty. Rifkind to release all his personal papers to the House. CJ Corona, despite being impeached, hired a lawyer who would do every legal trick there is in the book, and at the Senate floor would try to bar any paper that would reflect on the jurist’s unethical realty transactions.
Douglas’s actions, however, do raise serious questions about what should be the proper limit on a justice’s extrajudicial activity. No one argues that a man or woman who goes onto the bench should forswear all previous interests and affiliations. Douglas himself took care to avoid situations in which he might have to disqualify himself from sitting on cases. But should a sitting justice head a foundation, even a charitable one with noble purposes? Should a sitting justice engage in activities designed to produce an income larger than the generous salary Congress has appropriated in order to insulate the bench from outside pressures? Douglas traveled on Albert Parvin’s money; should any justice be in that situation? Most commentators believe Douglas did not violate judicial canons of ethics but came very close to doing so. It is hard to judge exactly what he did because William Douglas was unique among the Brethren. Unfortunately, he saw himself that way as well and assumed that if he did it, it had to be right. It is questionable if in the future any sitting justice will act that way. Douglas’s experience should serve as a warning, not an example. (Douglas Letters by Melvin I. Urofsky, p. 390-91).
Though Douglas was not being investigated yet by the Department of Justice, he was already communicating with the Attorney General, Ramsey Clark:
May 7, 1970
Dear Ramsey Clark;
“My decision not to sit in the Cowles cases and in the Playboy cases but to sit in others conforms, I think to Canon 4 of the American Bar Association Canons of Judicial Ethics.”
“A judge’s official conduct should be free from impropriety and the appearance of impropriety; he should avoid infractions of law; and his personal behavior, not only upon the Bench and in the performance of judicial duties, but also in his everyday life, should be beyond reproach”.
Where do we situate our own Chief Justice? Corona knew that he was a high profile jurist, being a midnight appointee of GMA to head the Supreme Court. Everyone knows his personal feelings towards GMA. But when she sought that controversial TRO last November so she can be treated abroad, CJ Corona participated in the deliberation instead of recusing from it. When it was disobeyed by Sec. De Lima, he allowed his spokesman, Midas Marquez to threaten the secretary with contempt of court.
CJ Corona wants the public to respect the Supreme Court and vowed that he would not go silently into the night and he would fight for the independence of the Supreme Court. But he must be forthcoming first, rather than be deceptive.