The Day Justice Douglas Threw a Book Out the Window

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From the book In Chambers: Stories of Supreme Court Law Clerks and Their Justices, noted by Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic :

Law clerks in this era all learned that none of [Justice William O.] Douglas' rules were ever to be ignored. "Brrraaaccckkk! Brrraaaccckkk!" rang the buzzer one day in 1965, summoning Jerome B. Falk, Jr. "Did you write in this volume?" asked a furious Douglas, his voice quivering with anger as he held up a United States Reports volume containing Supreme Court opinions.

"No sir," responded the concerned young clerk.

"I'm relieved to hear that," said the still angry justice. "Books are treasures. They are temples of the intellect. They must be cherished and protected. I couldn't imagine that you were the sort of person who would write in a book."

That said, Douglas turned, as was his practice, and pitched the book in the direction of the extended window seat behind him, where Harry Datcher would find them for reshelving at the end of the day. But Douglas was so pumped with adrenaline after his fiery speech that he overshot the seat and instead fired the book right out of the open office window to its loud, cracking demise on the concrete patio a floor below.

Falk spun to return to his desk, simply acting as if the incident had never happened, and book preservation was never spoken of in the office again.

Luckily, the patio seems to have been empty at the time. Those volumes are pretty damn hefty.

Judge SmailsCohen says he can see Peter Sellers playing Justice Douglas in the movie version of this scene—slow burn at the end as he realizes what he just did, but everybody just ignores it. I can too, but I have to confess that the first person I thought of was Ted Knight, because of the scene in Caddyshack where the judge angrily flings his golf club, tries to lie about it and is rescued by his caddy. Had that been a wacky screwball comedy about the Supreme Court (and it was based on fact), the scene would have gone like this:

JUSTICE DOUGLAS: I did not throw it. It…

ANGRY TOURIST: Well, if you didn't, how the hell did it get here?

DOUGLAS: It slipped!

CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN: What seems to be the problem? 

ANGRY TOURIST: He almost killed my wife with his damn book!

DOUGLAS: It was an accident! It slipped out of my hands.

FALK [trying to score points]: I noticed the binding was worn, sir. I should have mentioned it to you before. I could put some stick-um on there for you. It's my fault.

DOUGLAS: Yes … it's a good idea. Next time be more careful! 

I realize tourists probably weren't allowed to hang out on the patio below Justice Douglas's window, but in my wacky screwball comedy about the Supreme Court they are.