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About the William O. Douglas Society

Carry on the vision of one of America's judicial and environmental pioneers, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.

William O. Douglas served on the United States Supreme Court from 1939 to 1975 and was perhaps the single most distinguished champion for the environment in American legal history. During his lifetime, his decisions and writings blazed a trail for lawyers and concerned citizens to address environmental issues and protect our country's natural heritage within our legal framework.

In 1965, a group of volunteer attorneys representing the Sierra Club brought a suit against the federal government to protect Mineral King, a remote valley in the Sierra Nevada range of California. A massive ski development project was planned to accommodate up to 14,000 people overnight, enough to rival Yosemite Valley during its busy periods. The project was too much for Mineral King to handle, as the valley was small and avalanche-prone.

At that time, less than 50 years ago, our country had very few environmental laws, fewer environmental attorneys, and no legal rights for citizens to present their concerns about the environment in our courts. The case did make its way to the Supreme Court, however, by 1971. In Sierra Club v. Morton, the Court found that the Sierra Club had not proved sufficient interest to bring the suit. In other words, the Sierra Club had no standing. Justice Douglas, on the other hand, disagreed with the holding and felt the Sierra Club should be granted legal standing. In his dissenting opinion, that is studied in law schools to this day, Justice Douglas expressed his concern for the environment and argued for the court to recognize the standing of inanimate objects of the natural world.

"The critical question of 'standing' would be simplified and also put neatly in focus if we fashioned a federal rule that allowed environmental issues to be litigated before federal agencies or federal courts in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers and where injury is the subject of public outrage. Contemporary public concern for protecting nature's ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation. The voice of the inanimate object, therefore, should not be stilled. That does not mean that the judiciary takes over the managerial functions from the federal agency. It merely means that before these priceless bits of Americana (such as a valley, an alpine meadow, a river, or a lake) are forever lost or are so transformed as to be reduced to the eventual rubble of our urban environment, the voice of the existing beneficiaries of these environmental wonders should be heard."

Justice Douglas not only argued for standing, but also gave hints in how to gain it. The Sierra Club was then able to have the injunction blocking the development re-imposed by a local judge, keeping the beautiful Mineral King valley undeveloped. Mineral King valley is now a part of Sequoia National Park and will remain forever unspoiled. Soon after the injunction was reinstated, other environmental groups began taking their disputes to court. Not only did this suit launch Earthjustice, but it also established the foundations for citizen enforced environmental law.

Members of the William O. Douglas Society are special supporters of Earthjustice whose cumulative annual contributions of $1000 or more signify their exceptional commitment to Justice Douglas's spirit of environmentalism and their belief in the work of Earthjustice. To demonstrate our appreciation for their vision, leadership, and generosity, Douglas Society members receive exciting opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of our critical work and the issues in which we are involved.

We invite you to join the William O. Douglas Society and become a part of our special group of supporters who honor and continue the legacy of Justice Douglas. As a member, you will benefit from knowing that your commitment to our precious earth and its irreplaceable resources is making a difference to all that call it home.

Join online, or, for more information about this program, please contact:

50 California Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, CA  94111
(415) 217-2000