The Supreme Court: A Sequel to Springtime

  • Share
  • Read Later

It was a lovely day in 1961, and in a springtime mood the students at Pennsylvania's little Allegheny College waited for their distinguished guest speaker, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Orville Douglas. A slender, brown-haired Kappa Kappa Gamma named Joan Carol Martin was especially anxious. After all, Joan was a political science major, an honor student who was deeply interested in juridical philosophy—particularly as expounded by Justice Douglas. Introduced to Douglas by an Allegheny professor, Joan escorted him about the campus. She was duly impressed, and charmed.

The next year Joan titled her senior thesis "Testimonies and Concepts of William O. Douglas," and after graduation she headed for Washington. There, she called Douglas and asked for an appointment to see him. Joan was looking for work. Douglas, as it happened, needed someone to type notes for a book he was writing. Joan qualified and she got the job.

Something Missed. That fall Douglas separated from his second wife and moved to a bachelor apartment. A precociously distinguished jurist and an outdoorsman of rare dedication, Douglas had in 1923 married Mildred Riddle, a girl he had met while both taught at Yakima, Wash., high school. Mildred worked to help him through Columbia University Law School, bore him a son and daughter. But after 30 years of marriage, in 1953, she divorced him, charging that he left her "abandoned and alone" while working and graveling "to remote places in the world."

The next year Douglas married Mercedes Hester Davidson, divorced wife of a former Assistant Secretary of the Interior. Mercedes had been his research assistant, even attended auto mechanics school to learn how to change tires and spark plugs on their faraway trips. But for all of that, something was amiss. Two weeks ago, Mercedes won an uncontested divorce on grounds of cruelty (TIME, Aug. 9). Five days later, Bill Douglas, 64, and Joan Martin, 23, were married; the following day, Mercedes married her third husband, Washington Lawyer Robert B. Eichholz.

"An Aura of Good Taste." For months, the rumor has persisted Washington that Douglas chatted with President Kennedy last spring, hinted that he might resign from the Supreme Court Douglas denies this—and there seems little likelihood that he would conceivably step down before Oct. 16, his 65th birthday, when he will be eligible to retire at his full salary of $35,000 a year for life.

Last week, while the Douglas newlyweds were honeymooning on Washington State's lonely Olympic Peninsula, Joan's mother reported that she had received some "nasty telephone calls about the marriage. Said she to newsmen: "I'd like to give this an aura of good taste. He is an extraordinary man, and I think my daughter is a very unusual girl. They are, neither of them, ordinary people."