The Pleasantly Shaded Docket

From Daniel M. Gonen, Judging in Chambers: The Powers of a Single Justice of the Supreme Court, 76 U. Cin. L. Rev. 1159 (2008):

On a late-summer day in 1970, three men wearing business suits and carrying briefcases hiked six miles into the wilderness of central Washington State. As their appearance might have suggested, these were not ordinary hikers. The trio consisted of two civil-rights lawyers from Portland, Oregon, and their law clerk. They had set out into the woods that day to find Justice William O. Douglas and to apply to him for a temporary restraining order on behalf of their clients.

The Supreme Court had ended its term months earlier, and Justice Douglas was in Washington on a ten-day camping trip near his summer home in Goose Prairie, more than ten miles from the nearest telephone. With assistance from U.S. Forest Rangers, who had spotted Justice Douglas’s campsite by plane, the lawyers were able to track down Justice Douglas and his party. They presented their case to the Justice in a fifteen-minute oral argument, and left a 1.5-inch [thick] petition for him to review.

Justice Douglas indicated a particular tree stump and told the lawyers that they would find his decision there the next day. Only one of the original three was physically able to make the hike back the next day, but sure enough, a single sheet of paper was waiting for him on the designated stump. In a one-paragraph opinion, Justice Douglas denied the application.

{This story is drawn from Phil Cogswell, Lawyers Hike 6 Miles in Woods to Find Justice Douglas, Oregonian, Sept. 1, 1970, at 6. Cynthia Rapp, one of the foremost experts on the in-chambers opinions of Supreme Court Justices, deserves credit for rescuing this story from historical obscurity. See Cynthia Rapp, Introduction to 1 A Collection of In Chambers Opinions by the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, at vii (Cynthia Rapp ed., 2004).}

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