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Exhibition Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration

William O. Douglas. Memorandum to the Conference. Typescript, June 26, 1972. William O. Douglas Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (007.00.00)
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Ruth Green to William O. Douglas. Manuscript letter, June 29, 1972. William O. Douglas Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (008.00.00)
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Two Views on Furman v. Georgia

In Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), the court ruled against the death penalty, but the justices in the majority disagreed over the rationale. Here Justice William O. Douglas explains his reasoning by arguing that a law's application needed to be equal across society regardless of race or class in order to pass constitutional muster. The gap between justices in the majority and public opinion is demonstrated in this letter to Justice Douglas after the Furman ruling. The letter's floral border and the writer's initial reference to nightly prayers juxtaposed against the harsh statement that concludes the letter literally and symbolically underscores the ideological gulf. Though many observers believed the ruling had ended capital punishment in America, over ensuing decades executions have increased due to laws passed by state legislatures.

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