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Is Private Bad Judgement Relevant to High Public Office?

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William O. Douglas

The controversy over Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court poses complicated questions about the connection between private misbehavior and service in high office.

In the 1960’s, a 21-year old college student met a married public official when she was assigned to write a term paper about him. He made advances toward her, dumped his second wife, and married the girl—despite a 43-year age difference. Such behavior—involving probable sexual harassment and flagrant infidelity—didn’t disqualify that office-holder from the Supreme Court, because he was already on the high court: liberal icon William O. Douglas served a record 36 years on SCOTUS. Just three years after his third marriage, he divorced and re-married again—this time to an even younger college student, 45 years his junior.

Surely the judge’s bad judgment raised more relevant concerns about his temperament and values than the teenaged excesses of Brett Kavanaugh.

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