• U.S.

The Supreme Court: September Song

3 minute read

“Oo, la, la!” exclaimed Oliver Wendell Holmes to a startled aide who was attending him in his study one wintry day. “Young man,” explained Mr. Justice Holmes, then a redoubtable 93, “I was thinking about walking down the street with a pretty lady and holding her hand behind her husband’s back.” And oo, la, la, generally speaking, was Washington’s reaction last week to news that one of Holmes’s most libertarian successors on the Supreme Court, William O. Douglas, 67, had taken as his fourth bride blonde, blue-eyed Cathleen Heffernan, a 23-year-old senior at Portland’s all-girl Marylhurst College.

Within hours of the week’s first session, members of the House had introduced four resolutions calling for an investigation of the thrice-divorced Justice’s “moral character.” Kansas Republican Robert Dole charged that Douglas had not only used “bad judgment from a matrimonial standpoint, but also in a number of 5-to-4 decisions of the Supreme Court.” Democrat Byron Rogers of Colorado suggested that the romantic Justice might be retired under a law allowing for the removal of a judge “permanently disabled from performing his duties.”

The resolutions and half a dozen floor speeches probably were an embarrassment to Douglas, but were hardly likely to lead to an investigation, let alone the first successful impeachment of a Supreme Court Justice in the nation’s history. Nor were they likely to persuade the ruggedly individualistic Douglas—who has served 27 years on the court—to repeat a half-serious offer to resign from the bench, tendered to President Kennedy after his second divorce in 1963. His first marriage, to Mildred Riddle, ended in 1953 after 30 years and two children; his second, to Divorcee Mercedes Hester Davidson, lasted nine years; his third, to Joan Carol Martin, 26, broke up last December after two years, four months.

On to Peking. Douglas met his latest, the boyishly bobbed Cathleen, at a party in Portland last summer, and on a return visit in December asked the host for “the name, telephone number and address of that terrific gal I met at your party.” In May, he stopped in Portland again—to see Cathy and his dentist, “in that order of importance”—and later invited her to join a party at Prairie Lodge, his remote cabin in Gooseprairie, Wash., in the heart of the Cascade Mountains. Invited to a banquet in Los Angeles earlier this month, Douglas once again invited Cathy along, just in time for her to be stranded by the airline strike. Said Cathy: “I stayed over three days and I got married.”

Back at Prairie Lodge last week, under the peaks of Baldy and Old Scab, Douglas and his bride appeared blissfully unconcerned by the headshaking on the Potomac. “We don’t get much news around here,” drawled Douglas. “On the short-wave radio we can listen to the broadcasts from the Bureau of Reclamation and Peking.” The latter, at least, should be worth listening to if Peking approves the Justice’s plans, sanctioned last week by the State Department, to visit Red China with Cathy this September.

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