“The most important aspect of freedom of speech is freedom to learn. All education is a continuous dialogue — questions and answers that pursue every problem on the horizon. That is the essence of academic freedom, of all scientific inquiry.“
(The US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas)
William Orville Douglas was Yale law school professor and an expert on commercial litigation and bankruptcy. He was identified with the school of Legal Realism, which pushed for an understanding of law based less on formalistic legal doctrines and more on the real-world effects and socio-political context. In 1934, Douglas joined the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in a political appointee position of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. By 1937, he had become the SEC chairman.
Nominated by President Roosevelt to succeed Louis Brandeis’ seat, in 1939 Douglas became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. His term, lasting 37 years (until 1975), is the longest term in the history of the US Supreme Court.
On the bench Douglas consistently supported a strong interpretation of the Bill of Rights and led the struggle to apply these rights to those accused of crimes in state courts. He also became known as a strong advocate of First Amendment rights. He has constantly argued and ruled for a “literalist” interpretation of the First Amendment, insisting that the First Amendment’s command that “no law” shall restrict freedom of speech should be interpreted literally. Justice Douglas has grown to become one of the U.S most perceptive and passionate official defender of freedom and human rights. He fought to protect them in the Court and off, not only in judicial opinions but in extra-curricular talking and writing. His book An Almanac of Liberty (1954), from which this quote on academic freedom is taken (p. 363), is an intellectual composition praising the freedom of the mind through lively reflections on philosophy, historical events and their consequences, literature, policy, etc.
Additionally, Douglas was the most distinguished champion for the environment in American legal history, bringing about an essential shift toward modern environmentalism. In myriad situations Douglas promoted democratic action for public monitoring of government and business activities, and stronger laws to insure environmental and political integrity.
Douglas, William O. 1954. An Almanac of Liberty. New York: Doubleday (p. 363)