On Wednesday morning, June 17th, Justice Douglas announced he was staying the executions and left for vacation. He did not rule on the merits of the new lawyers’ claim, but rather said that the petition must be considered by the District Court and then the Court of Appeals. This would add months, if not years, to my parents’ lives.
Michael recalled in We Are Your Sons that we were playing our usual game of Monopoly when Michael heard a commotion in the kitchen: “[Sonia Bach] burst in on us and starting hugging us. ‘The Douglas stay! The Douglas stay!’ … As the news sunk in, we became wildly happy, Robby included.”
This was, without a doubt, the best news we’d had since my parents’ arrest. Although I couldn’t read newspaper articles, I saw reports on TV and heard them on the radio. My interpretation was that at the hearing on Monday, the Supreme Court’s Justices had asked Manny to give them ten reasons why my parents should not be killed, and he had done this, so they stayed the executions.
But we didn’t know that, according to FBI files forced into the open twenty years later by our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, late on the previous evening the Attorney General of the Unites States had met secretly with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. They agreed that if Douglas issued a stay the following morning, the entire Court would be called into special session to vacate Douglas’ action. They conspired to do this knowing neither the legal reasoning behind the request for the stay nor the contents of Douglas’ ruling, which had not yet been written.
So our good news only survived about 8 hours. By late afternoon the Attorney General had asked that the Supreme Court be called into special session and by evening the Chief Justice had scheduled a hearing on Douglas’ stay for the following morning.
(Check back each day this week for a new posting leading up to Friday, June 19th, the 56th anniversary of my parents’ execution. To be notified whenever there is a new post to Out On a Limb Together, subscribe to the blog here.)