Abe Fortas

Abe Fortas

Abe Fortas was born in Memphis, Tennessee on 19th June 19, 1910. His parents were Russian Jews who had arrived in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century.

Fortas studied at Yale Law School. He was also the editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. In 1933 he moved to Washington where he worked for the Agriculture Department. During the Second World War Fortas worked in the Department of the Interior.

After the war Fortas joined with Thurman Arnold and Paul Porter to establish the firm of Arnold, Fortas and Porter. It eventually became one of the most important law firms in Washington.

Lyndon B. Johnson ran for Senator from Texas in 1948. His main opponent in the Democratic primary (then a one party state, contested elections occurred in primaries, not the general election) was Coke Stevenson. Johnson won by 87 votes but Stevenson accused him of ballot-rigging. Stevenson obtained an injunction preventing Johnson's name from appearing on the ballot for the general election. Fortas represented Johnson in this long-drawn out dispute. The case was investigated by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Johnson was eventually cleared by Hoover of corruption and was allowed to take his seat in the Senate.

Fortas and Johnson now became close friends. Fortas' legal advice became important during the investigation into the activities of Billie Sol Estes and Bobby Baker. On 22nd November, 1963, Don B. Reynolds appeared before a secret session of the Senate Rules Committee. Reynolds told B. Everett Jordan and his committee that Johnson had demanded that he provided kickbacks in return for him agreeing to a life insurance policy arranged by him in 1957. This included a $585 Magnavox stereo. Reynolds also had to pay for $1,200 worth of advertising on KTBC, Johnson's television station in Austin. Reynolds had paperwork for this transaction including a delivery note that indicated the stereo had been sent to the home of Johnson.

Reynolds also told of seeing a suitcase full of money which Bobby Baker described as a "$100,000 payoff to Johnson for his role in securing the Fort Worth TFX contract". His testimony came to an end when news arrived that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

As soon as Lyndon B. Johnson became president he contacted B. Everett Jordan to see if there was any chance of stopping this information being published. Jordan replied that he would do what he could but warned Johnson that some members of the committee wanted Reynold's testimony to be released to the public. On 6th December, 1963, Jordan spoke to Johnson on the telephone and said he was doing what he could to suppress the story because " it might spread (to) a place where we don't want it spread."

Fortas, who represented both Lyndon B. Johnson and Bobby Baker, worked behind the scenes in an effort to keep this information from the public. Johnson also arranged for a smear campaign to be organized against Don B. Reynolds. To help him do this J. Edgar Hoover passed to Johnson the FBI file on Reynolds.

On 17th January, 1964, the Senate Rules Committee voted to release to the public Reynolds' secret testimony. Johnson responded by leaking information from Reynolds' FBI file to Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson. On 5th February, 1964, the Washington Post reported that Reynolds had lied about his academic success at West Point. The article also claimed that Reynolds had been a supporter of Joseph McCarthy and had accused business rivals of being secret members of the American Communist Party. It was also revealed that Reynolds had made anti-Semitic remarks while in Berlin in 1953.

A few weeks later the New York Times reported that Lyndon B. Johnson had used information from secret government documents to smear Don B. It also reported that Johnson's officials had been applying pressure on the editors of newspapers not to print information that had been disclosed by Reynolds in front of the Senate Rules Committee.

In 1965 Johnson nominated Fortas as a member of the Supreme Court. During his time on the Court, Fortas continued to advise LBJ on political and legal matters. In June 1968, Earl Warren retired as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Johnson had no hesitation in appointing Fortas as his replacement. Johnson also appointed another friend from Texas, Homer Thornberry, to replace Fortas. The Senate had doubts about the wisdom of Fortas becoming Chief Justice. It was later discovered that Fortas had lied when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In October, Fortas asked for his nomination to be withdrawn.

It was also revealed that a convicted financier named Louis Wolfson had agreed to pay Fortas $20,000 per year for the remainder of his life. This arrangement was condemned as ethically improper and Fortas was forced to resign from the Supreme Court in May 1969.

Fortas was unsuccessful in his attempt to rejoin Arnold, Fortas and Porter, the law firm he had helped create. In 1970 he started another law firm.

Abe Fortas died on 5th April, 1982.


FORTAS, ABE

Abe Fortas served as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1965 to 1969. A renowned and powerful Washington, D.C., attorney before he joined the Court, Fortas resigned from the bench in disgrace after allegations of unethical behavior led to calls for his impeachment.

Fortas was born June 19, 1910, in Memphis, to English immigrant Jews. He graduated from Southwestern College, in Memphis, in 1930 and received a law degree from Yale Law School in 1933. An outstanding student at Yale, Fortas became a protégé of william o. douglas, a member of the school's faculty and a future Supreme Court justice. Following graduation Fortas divided his time between Yale and Washington, D.C., serving as an assistant professor at the school and working in several federal government agencies.

Fortas's arrival in Washington, D.C., coincided with President franklin d. roosevelt's new deal administration. Under Roosevelt the federal government greatly expanded as it assumed more regulatory power over the national economy. Fortas severed his connections with Yale in 1937 and went to work full-time for the securities and exchange commission, which was chaired by Douglas.

Fortas proved to be an effective administrator. He joined the department of the interior in 1939 and soon became a confidant of Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes. Ickes, a powerful member of the Roosevelt administration, named Fortas undersecretary in 1942. Fortas served in that position until 1946, when he left government to start a private law firm.

Fortas and Thurman W. Arnold, a former law professor and chief of the Antitrust Division of the justice department, created the firm of Arnold and Porter to help corporations and other powerful interest groups deal with the new federal bureaucracy. Fortas knew his way around the halls of power and became an influential

lobbyist and interpreter of government regulations in post-World War II Washington, D.C.

His path to the Supreme Court began in 1948, when he led the legal team that fought to place Lyndon B. Johnson's name on the Texas election ballot for U.S. senator. Johnson, a Texas congressman in the 1940s, got to know Fortas while Fortas was at the Department of the Interior. The 1948 Texas Democratic primary election gave Johnson an 87-vote margin of victory, but his opponent, Coke R. Stevenson, alleged that Johnson's supporters had stuffed the ballot box with phony ballots. After Stevenson filed suit in federal court, a judge removed Johnson's name from the final election ballot, pending an investigation into the alleged election irregularities. Fortas convinced Justice hugo l. black of the Supreme Court to order the restoration of Johnson's name, pursuant to Black's judicial power to review the actions of the federal courts in Texas. Johnson was elected to the Senate and became majority leader in 1955. He was elected vice president of the United States in 1960 and became president on November 22, 1963, following the assassination of President john f. kennedy.

"For a justice of this ultimate tribunal [the U.S. Supreme Court], the opportunity for self-discovery and the occasion for self-revelation is great."
—Abe Fortas

Though Fortas served the powerful, he also provided pro bono (unpaid) legal services to those with pressing legal issues. His most famous pro bono case was gideon v. wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S. Ct. 792, 9 L. Ed. 2d 799 (1963). A Florida court had convicted Clarence Gideon, a drifter and small-time gambler, of breaking into a poolroom and removing the change from a vending machine. Gideon could not afford an attorney and the court would not appoint one. Gideon prepared his own appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that denial of legal counsel because a person could not afford an attorney was unconstitutional. The Court accepted his appeal and appointed Fortas to serve as his attorney.

Fortas convinced the Court to overrule its precedent in Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455, 62 S. Ct. 1252, 86 L. Ed. 1595 (1942), in which the Court held that an ordinary person charged with a felony could do an adequate job of representing himself or herself and was not entitled to the appointment of an attorney. In his majority opinion for Gideon, Justice Black ruled that an indigent defendant in a criminal trial has a constitutional right to a court-appointed attorney. In so ruling, the Court incorporated through the fourteenth amendment the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel, thus making that right applicable to state as well as federal criminal proceedings.

When Johnson assumed the presidency, he looked to Fortas as a confidential adviser. Johnson wished to appoint Fortas to the Supreme Court, but there were no vacancies. He convinced Justice arthur j. goldberg to resign from the Court in 1965 to become U.S. ambassador to the united nations. Goldberg left the Court reluctantly, and Johnson nominated Fortas to fill its so-called Jewish seat. The "Jewish seat" began with the 1939 appointment of felix frankfurter, who was Jewish, to succeed Justice benjamin cardozo, also Jewish. It was assumed that for political reasons, Democratic presidents would appoint a Jewish person to that vacancy. This tradition ended with the appointment of Fortas.

Fortas fit in well with the liberal Court, then headed by Chief Justice earl warren. Concerned with policy more than precedent, Fortas was a strong defender of civil rights and civil liberties. His two most significant opinions dealt with the rights of children. The 1967 landmark case in re gault, 387 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1428, 18 L. Ed. 2d 527, changed the nature of the juvenile law system. Fortas and the Court essentially made the juvenile courts adhere to standards of due process, applying most of the procedural safeguards enjoyed by adults accused of crimes. Under Gault juvenile courts were to respect the right to counsel, the right to freedom from compulsory self-incrimination, and the right to confront hostile witnesses.

tinker v. des moines independent community school district, 393 U.S. 503, 89 S. Ct. 733, 21 L. Ed. 2d 731 (1969), accorded juveniles first amendment rights. Des Moines high school officials had suspended students for wearing black armbands to school to protest U.S. involvement in the vietnam war. On appeal Fortas rejected the idea that the school's response was reasonable because it was based on the fear that a disturbance would result from the wearing of armbands. Fortas ruled that the wearing of armbands was "closely akin to 'pure speech' which … is entitled to comprehensive protection under the First Amendment." He added that public school officials could not ban expression out of the "mere desire to avoid discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint."

In June 1968, Chief Justice Warren announced that he would retire. President Johnson nominated Fortas to succeed Warren, but the political mood of the Senate was hostile to the nomination. It had been an open secret in Washington, D.C., that Fortas continued to advise the president after joining the Court. Fortas was a key participant in Vietnam War policymaking. Some senators were troubled by his breach of the separation of powers others, especially conservatives, attacked his liberal voting record on the Court. Republicans hoped to derail the nomination so as to give richardm. nixon, then running for the presidency, the opportunity to appoint a more conservative chief justice. Johnson, who had already announced he would not run for reelection, was a lame duck and could do nothing to help Fortas. Opponents conducted a filibuster when the appointment was brought to the Senate floor. In October, Fortas, sensing defeat, asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration. Warren remained on the Court until 1969, when President Nixon appointed warren e. burger as chief justice.

Matters worsened for Fortas, in 1969, when Life magazine reported that he had accepted a $20,000 fee from a foundation established by the family of Louis Wolfson, a financier under federal investigation for securities violations. The fee was the first of a series of annual payments that were to be made to Fortas for the duration of his life, and thereafter to his widow until her death, in exchange for Fortas's guidance of the foundation's programs. The arrangement was terminated in 1966 when Fortas returned the money upon Wolfson's indictment.

Despite Fortas's ultimate return of the money, his initial acceptance of it troubled many senators. It was alleged that Fortas had done more than foundation work, giving Wolfson legal advice. The Life article noted that Wolfson had used Fortas's name in the hope of helping himself. Fortas issued an ambiguous statement that did not resolve the situation. The Nixon administration and Republican senators hinted that Fortas should be impeached for his actions, which were contrary to the ethical provision that judges must be free of the appearance of impropriety. Fortas ended the controversy by resigning from the Court May 14, 1969, though he contended he had done nothing wrong. This was the first time in U.S. history that a justice resigned under the threat of impeachment.

Following his resignation Fortas sought to return to his old law firm. When the firm refused to take him back, he set up his own law practice, Fortas and Koven. He resumed advising corporate clients on how to do business in Washington, D.C., and he continued his pro bono work.

Fortas continued to practice law until he died from a ruptured aorta on April 5, 1982, in Washington, D.C.


Legal history highlight: The failed election-year nomination of Abe Fortas

By Andrew Hamm
on Mar 10, 2016 at 4:03 pm

The current vacancy on the Supreme Court has generated considerable discussion about the history of Supreme Court nominations – including from Michael Gerhardt for this blog. One oft-cited chapter in this history is President Lyndon Johnson’s unsuccessful 1968 nomination of Justice Abe Fortas to replace Earl Warren, who had announced his intent to retire from his position as the Chief Justice. Today’s political and judicial situation makes for perfect timing for a recent article by Robert David Johnson in the Journal of Supreme Court History: “Lyndon B. Johnson and the Fortas Nomination.” Johnson’s article is one of the first to use the tapes of Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 conversations and telephone calls. Johnson also is the first scholar studying the Fortas confirmation to use the papers of some of the senators who played key roles in the battle, including Fortas’s “most prominent opponents,” Senator Robert Griffin (R-Michigan) and Senator Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina).

On June 13, 1968, Warren tendered a conditional resignation that would become effective upon his successor’s confirmation. For Lyndon Johnson, the “obvious selection” as a replacement was former Justice Arthur Goldberg, who left the Court in 1965 to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. However, Lyndon Johnson demurred on the ground that, in his words, one “oughtn’t to be leaving the Court and going back on the Court.” More bluntly, he put it, “I oughtn’t to have two Jews” as Justices. Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford was “too old,” Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance “too prone to ill health,” and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Fowler “too vital in his current post.”

Lyndon Johnson ultimately selected Fortas, “the best lawyer on the Court,” but immediately it smelled of cronyism – only the first of the problems to come. Fortas had been a longtime ally of Johnson’s, and even as Associate Justice he continued to advise the president on matters ranging from Vietnam to the relationship between Johnson’s daughter and the actor George Hamilton.

Elevating Fortas also meant that Johnson needed to nominate a new Associate Justice. He wanted someone whose vote he could “always be proud of.” He chose Homer Thornberry, a fellow Texan who had succeeded him in the House of Representatives, and whom he had already elevated from a federal district court to the Fifth Circuit in 1965. Although President Johnson candidly admitted that Thornberry wouldn’t be as eloquent as Justice Hugo Black, to opponents Thornberry seemed like the same cronyism all over again as the choice of Fortas.

The Senate had never attempted to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee since the 1917 establishment of the cloture rule, and after the “Court-packing fight” of 1937, the Senate had confirmed twenty-two consecutive nominees – fifteen by voice vote. As Robert David Johnson notes in the article, the filibuster also carried with it significant political and public association with efforts by southern lawmakers to block civil rights legislation. (That summer, Republicans avoided the term “filibuster,” instead labeling their efforts a “full debate” or an “educational campaign.”) Given this situation, Johnson contends in the article, it “thus was not unreasonable, as most Washington observers thought, to expect little resistance for Warren’s replacement.”

However, Johnson’s research uncovers hints that, even at the time, that expectation may have been misguided. The Senate had added a number of new members from recent elections “who – for reasons of ideology, partisanship, or both – challenged the Senate’s traditional mores.” Indeed, the previous year’s confirmation of Justice Thurgood Marshall, by a vote of sixty-nine to eleven (with twenty senators not voting) “revealed signs of a different approach by some Senators to Supreme Court selections.” This new approach stemmed in part from significant public backlash against the Warren Court for its “highly unpopular crime-related decisions, notably Miranda v. Arizona.” Partly as a result of the negative perception of these cases, senators were considering crime-control bills, and Richard Nixon – the leading Republican presidential candidate – was running largely on a law-and-order platform.

A former Senate majority leader, Lyndon Johnson was himself a master procedural tactician, yet opposition Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee would outmaneuver him and his allies – a “bunch of dupes” was the president’s self-deprecating phrase in hindsight. Thurmond refused to waive – as was typically done – a rule prohibiting committee meetings while the Senate was in session on the floor. A forgotten rule that Republicans resurrected allowed for a week’s delay. Other strategic absences denied the committee the quorums necessary to meet.

Another stalling tactic involved Fortas’s alleged complicity in the spread of pornography due to his participation in the Court’s unsigned decision in Schackman v. California thirty senators found the matter pressing enough to warrant watching the questionable films to make their own judgments. Senator Philip Hart (D-Michigan) remarked that people might have the “accurate impression that U.S. Senators, however righteously disapproving, have been slipping into innumerable private showings of ‘dirty’ films.”

However amusing that element of the episode may seem today, it points to a crucial aspect of the nomination battle – backlash against the Warren Court. Lyndon Johnson’s “talking points” for Fortas and Thornberry – “that since the only ‘question is whether Warren goes and Thornberry comes on, … you can’t tell me that Thornberry ain’t a hell of a lot better for [some southern senators] than Warren is’’ – missed the crucial point. It wasn’t about Thornberry, but Fortas, and elevating him carried the optics of enshrining the Warren Court.

Fortas’s appearance for testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee represented the first time, except for a recess appointee, that a sitting Justice had ever testified about his views. This effectively put the Warren Court on trial. Quickly it became evident that nominating Fortas constituted a “case of gross political malpractice,” in the words of political scientist Kevin McMahon. Democrats were largely unmoved by the selections, but they significantly alienated moderate and liberal Republicans, some of whom the president would need to sway to his side.

Johnson reports that on July 19, an “anonymous caller” informed a Senate aide that Fortas had received $15,000 from private donors for a seminar at American University. Also troubling was Fortas’s continued close relationship with Lyndon Johnson. (Fortas defended himself in committee from this charge with the somewhat unconvincing claim that the president only consulted him on matters for which Fortas lacked “any expertise.”) These ethical questions added to Fortas’s problems, but in a way that, Johnson suggests in his article, only increased already-present opposition arising primarily from Fortas’s association with the Warren Court.

On the campaign trail, Nixon promised to appoint “strict constitutionalists” to the Court, and he stressed in a campaign letter the “need for future Presidents to include in their appointments to the Supreme Court men who are thoroughly experienced and versed in the criminal laws of the land.” In the summer and early fall of that year, the Senate received 50,000 letters or telegrams about the Fortas nomination they “overwhelmingly tilted against” it. One Senator’s situation is indicative. Senator Wallace Bennett (R-Utah) had originally said he would “definitely not join a filibuster” against Fortas. That was before he barely survived his September primary challenge from Mark Anderson, a John Birch Society member who had strongly rallied the far right. Returning to Washington, D.C., Bennett changed his mind about Fortas. His Democratic colleague, Senator Frank Moss, faced a similar struggle he backed Fortas, but not openly.

By the time the nomination passed out of committee, editors of The New York Times remarked, “the only way the Senate can go is up.” It didn’t. Fortas received, as Johnson puts it, “a final indignity” in not even reaching fifty votes. Forty-five Senators voted yes, and forty-three “wanted the debate to continue,” but Lyndon Johnson withdrew the nomination – the first time since 1930 that the president’s choice had not prevailed.

Fortas himself would not remain much longer on the Court. The following year another ethical violation surfaced – a $20,000 annual retainer Fortas accepted from Wall Street financier Louis Wolfson, who was himself being investigated for fraud and hoping for a pardon from Lyndon Johnson. Fortas resigned amid calls for his impeachment, but Johnson posits that it is “at least plausible that a less politically exposed Fortas could have rebuffed calls for his resignation.”

With this claim that “absent the bruising confirmation fight” Fortas might not otherwise have had to resign, Johnson argues that Lyndon Johnson’s political miscalculations “allowed Nixon to make two nominations that otherwise would have gone to appointees of a Democratic President.” This in turn “set into motion the pattern” of a Supreme Court whose majority was appointed by Republican presidents – a pattern that continued until Antonin Scalia’s death earlier this year.


Gideon v. Wainwright

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Gideon v. Wainwright, case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on March 18, 1963, ruled (9–0) that states are required to provide legal counsel to indigent defendants charged with a felony.

The case centred on Clarence Earl Gideon, who had been charged with a felony for allegedly burglarizing a pool hall in Panama City, Florida, in June 1961. At his first trial he requested a court-appointed attorney but was denied. Prosecutors produced witnesses who saw Gideon outside the pool hall near the time of the break-in but none who saw him commit the crime. Gideon cross-examined witnesses, but he was unable to impeach their credibility or point out the contradictions in their testimony. The jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to five years in prison.

Gideon subsequently petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus from the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that, because he had not had an attorney, he had been denied a fair trial. The suit was originally Gideon v. Cochran the latter name referred to H.G. Cochran, Jr., the director of Florida’s Division of Corrections. By the time the case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, Cochran had been succeeded by Louie L. Wainwright. After the Florida Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, Gideon filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

At the time, the Supreme Court had already dealt with several cases concerning the right to counsel. In Powell v. Alabama (1932)—which involved the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine black youths who had been found guilty of raping two white women—the Court had ruled that state courts must provide legal counsel to indigent defendants charged with capital crimes. In Betts v. Brady, however, (1942), the Court decided that assigned counsel was not required for indigent defendants in state felony cases except when there were special circumstances, notably if the defendant was illiterate or mentally challenged.


Abe Fortas

Abe Fortas served as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1965 to 1969. A renowned and powerful Washington, D.C., attorney before he joined the Court, Fortas resigned from the bench in disgrace after allegations of unethical behavior led to calls for his impeachment .

Fortas was born June 19, 1910, in Memphis, to English immigrant Jews. He graduated from Southwestern College, in Memphis, in 1930 and received a law degree from Yale Law School in 1933. An outstanding student at Yale, Fortas became a protégé of William O. Douglas , a member of the school's faculty and a future Supreme Court justice. Following graduation Fortas divided his time between Yale and Washington, D.C., serving as an assistant professor at the school and working in several federal government agencies.

Fortas's arrival in Washington, D.C., coincided with President Franklin D. Roosevelt 's New Deal administration. Under Roosevelt the federal government greatly expanded as it assumed more regulatory power over the national economy. Fortas severed his connections with Yale in 1937 and went to work full-time for the securities and exchange commission , which was chaired by Douglas.

Fortas proved to be an effective administrator. He joined the department of the interior in 1939 and soon became a confidant of Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes. Ickes, a powerful member of the Roosevelt administration, named Fortas undersecretary in 1942. Fortas served in that position until 1946, when he left government to start a private law firm.

Fortas and Thurman W. Arnold, a former law professor and chief of the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department , created the firm of Arnold and Porter to help corporations and other powerful interest groups deal with the new federal bureaucracy. Fortas knew his way around the halls of power and became an influential

lobbyist and interpreter of government regulations in post-World War II Washington, D.C.

His path to the Supreme Court began in 1948, when he led the legal team that fought to place Lyndon B. Johnson's name on the Texas election ballot for U.S. senator. Johnson, a Texas congressman in the 1940s, got to know Fortas while Fortas was at the Department of the Interior. The 1948 Texas Democratic primary election gave Johnson an 87-vote margin of victory, but his opponent, Coke R. Stevenson, alleged that Johnson's supporters had stuffed the ballot box with phony ballots. After Stevenson filed suit in federal court, a judge removed Johnson's name from the final election ballot, pending an investigation into the alleged election irregularities. Fortas convinced Justice Hugo L. Black of the Supreme Court to order the restoration of Johnson's name, pursuant to Black's judicial power to review the actions of the federal courts in Texas. Johnson was elected to the Senate and became majority leader in 1955. He was elected vice president of the United States in 1960 and became president on November 22, 1963, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy .

Though Fortas served the powerful, he also provided pro bono (unpaid) legal services to those with pressing legal issues. His most famous pro bono case was gideon v. wainwright 372 U.S. 335, 83 S. Ct. 792, 9 L. Ed. 2d 799 (1963). A Florida court had convicted Clarence Gideon, a drifter and small-time gambler, of breaking into a poolroom and removing the change from a vending machine. Gideon could not afford an attorney and the court would not appoint one. Gideon prepared his own appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that denial of legal counsel because a person could not afford an attorney was unconstitutional. The Court accepted his appeal and appointed Fortas to serve as his attorney.

Fortas convinced the Court to overrule its precedent in Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455, 62 S. Ct. 1252, 86 L. Ed. 1595 (1942), in which the Court held that an ordinary person charged with a felony could do an adequate job of representing himself or herself and was not entitled to the appointment of an attorney. In his majority opinion for Gideon, Justice Black ruled that an indigent defendant in a criminal trial has a constitutional right to a court-appointed attorney. In so ruling, the Court incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel , thus making that right applicable to state as well as federal criminal proceedings.

When Johnson assumed the presidency, he looked to Fortas as a confidential adviser. Johnson wished to appoint Fortas to the Supreme Court, but there were no vacancies. He convinced Justice arthur j. goldberg to resign from the Court in 1965 to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations . Goldberg left the Court reluctantly, and Johnson nominated Fortas to fill its so-called Jewish seat. The "Jewish seat" began with the 1939 appointment of Felix Frankfurter , who was Jewish, to succeed Justice benjamin cardozo , also Jewish. It was assumed that for political reasons, Democratic presidents would appoint a Jewish person to that vacancy. This tradition ended with the appointment of Fortas.

Fortas fit in well with the liberal Court, then headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren . Concerned with policy more than precedent, Fortas was a strong defender of civil rights and civil liberties. His two most significant opinions dealt with the rights of children. The 1967 landmark case in re gault 387 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1428, 18 L. Ed. 2d 527, changed the nature of the juvenile law system. Fortas and the Court essentially made the juvenile courts adhere to standards of due process , applying most of the procedural safeguards enjoyed by adults accused of crimes. Under Gault juvenile courts were to respect the right to counsel, the right to freedom from compulsory self-incrimination , and the right to confront hostile witnesses.

Tinker v. des moines independent community school district 393 U.S. 503, 89 S. Ct. 733, 21 L. Ed. 2d 731 (1969), accorded juveniles First Amendment rights. Des Moines high school officials had suspended students for wearing black armbands to school to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War . On appeal Fortas rejected the idea that the school's response was reasonable because it was based on the fear that a disturbance would result from the wearing of armbands. Fortas ruled that the wearing of armbands was "closely akin to 'pure speech' which … is entitled to comprehensive protection under the First Amendment." He added that public school officials could not ban expression out of the "mere desire to avoid discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint."

In June 1968, Chief Justice Warren announced that he would retire. President Johnson nominated Fortas to succeed Warren, but the political mood of the Senate was hostile to the nomination. It had been an open secret in Washington, D.C., that Fortas continued to advise the president after joining the Court. Fortas was a key participant in Vietnam War policymaking. Some senators were troubled by his breach of the separation of powers others, especially conservatives, attacked his liberal voting record on the Court. Republicans hoped to derail the nomination so as to give richardm. nixon , then running for the presidency, the opportunity to appoint a more conservative chief justice. Johnson, who had already announced he would not run for reelection, was a lame duck and could do nothing to help Fortas. Opponents conducted a filibuster when the appointment was brought to the Senate floor. In October, Fortas, sensing defeat, asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration. Warren remained on the Court until 1969, when President Nixon appointed Warren E. Burger as chief justice.

Matters worsened for Fortas, in 1969, when Life magazine reported that he had accepted a $20,000 fee from a foundation established by the family of Louis Wolfson, a financier under federal investigation for securities violations. The fee was the first of a series of annual payments that were to be made to Fortas for the duration of his life, and thereafter to his widow until her death, in exchange for Fortas's guidance of the foundation's programs. The arrangement was terminated in 1966 when Fortas returned the money upon Wolfson's indictment.

Despite Fortas's ultimate return of the money, his initial acceptance of it troubled many senators. It was alleged that Fortas had done more than foundation work, giving Wolfson legal advice. The Life article noted that Wolfson had used Fortas's name in the hope of helping himself. Fortas issued an ambiguous statement that did not resolve the situation. The Nixon administration and Republican senators hinted that Fortas should be impeached for his actions, which were contrary to the ethical provision that judges must be free of the appearance of impropriety. Fortas ended the controversy by resigning from the Court May 14, 1969, though he contended he had done nothing wrong. This was the first time in U.S. history that a justice resigned under the threat of impeachment.

Following his resignation Fortas sought to return to his old law firm. When the firm refused to take him back, he set up his own law practice, Fortas and Koven. He resumed advising corporate clients on how to do business in Washington, D.C., and he continued his pro bono work.

Fortas continued to practice law until he died from a ruptured aorta on April 5, 1982, in Washington, D.C.


The Cautionary Tale of Abe Fortas

Neil Gorsuch has a lot of friends in Washington. He should manage these relationships carefully.

In Washington, politics, as they say, can lead to strange bedfellows. And political friendships can span the branches of government. For instance, Justice Scalia and Vice President Cheney were hunting buddies. But this friendship later raised eyebrows and requests for recusal when a case involving Cheney came before the Supreme Court. Friendships can come back to haunt justices.

I started my career as an attorney at Arnold & Porter. I knew that the firm started as Arnold, Fortas & Porter. The “Fortas” was Abe Fortas, the one-time Supreme Court Justice who left the high court after just 4 years in ignominy. No one would really talk about Fortas at the firm.

And now I wonder if his cautionary tale might resonate for the Court’s newest member, Justice Neil Gorsuch, who has come under criticism for his relationships with sitting Senators. As Charles P. Pierce wrote in Esquire of a trip Justice Gorsuch took with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, “don’t even consider the propriety of a Supreme Court Justice being paraded around a state like a prize trout.”

What can we learn today from Justice Fortas’s fate? A lot. Abe Fortas’s career as a lawyer could not have had a more promising start as he graduated second in his class from Yale Law School and was promptly hired by Yale to teach. He worked as a lawyer throughout the expanding administrative state. And he was appointed by the Supreme Court to represent Clarence Gideon in the historic case of Gideon v. Wainwright in 1962. Mr. Fortas won the case for his indigent client 9-0, and in so doing, he helped establish that the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel in criminal cases extends to felony defendants in state courts. This allows for court appointed lawyers to criminal defendants throughout the land.

Then Abe Fortas’s political star was really on the rise. He was appointed to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. And then luck seemed to shine on him again when Chief Justice Warren decided to retire in 1968. President Johnson then nominated Associate Justice Fortas to become Chief Justice Fortas which required Senate approval. And that’s when everything went pear shaped.

Justice Fortas was known for his close relationship with LBJ, but it wasn’t until his confirmation hearings to be elevated to Chief Justice did the closeness of the relationship become fully examined in a public forum. As the U.S. Senate still notes the second Fortas nomination hearing revealed “[a]s a sitting justice, he regularly attended White House staff meetings he briefed the president on secret Court deliberations and, on behalf of the president, he pressured senators who opposed the war in Vietnam.”

And if all of that wasn’t bad enough, the hearings also revealed that his former law partner Paul Porter (the Porter of Arnold & Porter) set up a gig for Fortas to teach summer school at American University. That probably wouldn’t have been all that controversial, except Fortas’s salary wasn’t paid by American University. Rather former Arnold & Porter clients, many of whom had cases potentially heading to the Supreme Court paid the summer school salary to Fortas. The payment was $15,000 which doesn’t sound like much today, but was 40% of the salary he earned as a Supreme Court Justice. Conservative Senators with Strom Thurmond leading the charge, filibustered Fortas’s elevation until he was forced to withdraw his name.

Fortas remained on the Supreme Court for another year when another financial scandal sunk his career. He took $20,000 from the Wolfson Foundation, which was a family foundation of Louis Wolfson, who was indicted for securities fraud. Justice Fortas returned the money but his reputation was ruined and he stepped down from the Court in shame. His cautionary tale should teach all Justices that the appearance of impropriety can crush an otherwise stellar career.

The Abe Fortas problem isn’t new. Justice Clarence Thomas has repeatedly been chastised over the years for his taking money from conservative groups for various speaking engagements.

The newest addition to the Supreme Court, Justice Gorsuch has already kicked up controversy for his choices of speaking engagements. In September 2017, he gave a speech at the Trump International Hotel in DC. This hotel is the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging that the President’s continued indirect ownership of the hotel violates the Constitution. These lawsuits are likely headed straight to the Supreme Court.

Justice Gorsuch also spoke with Senate Majority Mitch McConnell at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center (named after you guessed it Mitch McConnell) in September 2017 after McConnell held the late Justice Scalia’s seat open for a year for him. And then in January 2018, Justice Gorsuch apparently dined with Senators Cornyn and Alexander “to talk about important issues facing our country…” Senator Cornyn is presently number two in Senate Republican leadership.

Justice Gorsuch is allowed to have friends in DC — even friends is very high places like the Oval Office and the number one and two seats in the Senate. But Justice Fortas thought his powerful friendships were allowed too — until he crossed an invisible line where his friendships –and of course the money — made him look like he had lost his impartiality as a jurist.

(Editor’s note: This post was updated on Thursday, February 8.)

The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily those of the Brennan Center for Justice.


Today in History

Today is Saturday, June 26, the 177th day of 2021. There are 188 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History:

On June 26, 2013, in deciding its first cases on the issue, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the nation’s legally married gay couples equal federal footing with all other married Americans and also cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

In 1483, Richard III began his reign as King of England (he was crowned the following month at Westminster Abbey).

In 1917, the first troops of the American Expeditionary Force deployed to France during World War I landed in St. Nazaire.

In 1919, the New York Daily News was first published.

In 1945, the charter of the United Nations was signed by 50 countries in San Francisco.

In 1948, the Berlin Airlift began in earnest after the Soviet Union cut off land and water routes to the isolated western sector of Berlin.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy visited West Berlin, where he delivered his famous speech expressing solidarity with the city’s residents, declaring: “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner).

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his choice of Abe Fortas to succeed the retiring Earl Warren as chief justice of the United States (however, Fortas later withdrew in the face of stiff Senate opposition).

In 1977, 42 people were killed when a fire sent toxic smoke pouring through the Maury County Jail in Columbia, Tennessee. Elvis Presley performed his last concert at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton announced the U.S. had launched missiles against Iraqi targets because of “compelling evidence” Iraq had plotted to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush.

In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered the Virginia Military Institute to admit women or forgo state support.

In 1997, the first Harry Potter novel, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling (ROHL’-ing), was published in the United Kingdom (it was later released in the United States under the title “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”).

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a handgun ban in the District of Columbia as it affirmed, 5-4, that an individual right to gun ownership existed.

Ten years ago: New York City’s gay pride parade turned into a carnival-like celebration of same-sex marriage as hundreds of thousands of revelers rejoiced at the state’s new law giving gay couples the same marital rights as everyone else.

Five years ago: Fourteen people suffered stab wounds, cuts and bruises when fighting erupted outside the California state Capitol in Sacramento between more than 300 counter-protesters and about 30 members of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist group. Fireworks exploded as a huge Chinese-owned container ship made the inaugural passage through the newly expanded Panama Canal.


Talk:Abe Fortas

I added a link to the finding aid in the external links section.

Should a mention be added in the section about the papers request from the LBJ Library?

The stub of a section on Fortas views of Executive power seems pointless to me. In the first place, the flat statement in the first sentence is NOT supported by the quote that follows. The view that historically the growth of executive power in the mid-20th century was necessary, does not necessarily translate into the belief that the legislature should be "less powerful." In the second place, the statement seems a throw away. It is not grounded in any discussion of jurisprudential debate at the time over the expansion of the executive (in part, I would submit, because it was not very controversial at the time) nor in any wider discussion of his ideological or philosophic views. It seems like just another excuse to quote from Kalman's bitter and critical biography. TheCormac (talk) 16:42, 23 December 2008 (UTC)


I'm not sure how the Republicans could have filibustered Fortas, as they had 24 votes against cloture and 10 votes for cloture. I'm changing the article to reflect that. _________________________________________________________________________________________ Should we perhaps include why Mr. Fotas has been in the news so much lately, and why we have so much information about his filibuster? -DG

That sounds good. Maybe we can try and get the exact names of the senators who voted for and against Fortas. I doubt southern democrats voted against him in large numbers.

Here's the senators who voted against cloture (19 Democrats, 24 Republicans): Democrats: Byrd (Va), Byrd (WVa), Cannon, Dodd, Eastland, Ervin, Fulbright, Hill, Holland, Hollings, Jordan, Lausche, Long, McClellan, Russell, Sparkman, Spong, Stennis, Talmadge. Republicans: Allott, Baker, Bennett, Boggs, Carlson, Cotton, Curtis, Dirksen, Fannin, Fong, Griffin, Hansen, Hickenlooper, Hruska, Jordan, Miller, Mundt, Murphy, Pearson, Prouty, Thurmond, Tower, Williams, Young. Virtually all the Southern Democrats voted against cloture. The only exceptions were Gore (Tenn) and Randolph (WVa). (The two Maryland senators voted for cloture, not sure if Maryland is considered Southern. A Democratic senator from Louisiana, Ellender(?), did not vote either way) This is as reported in the NY Times. I have access to the archive. Ydorb 15:40, May 9, 2005 (UTC)

Was the Byrd from WVa listed above is the current senator yes? That's very interesting. Great work on getting those names. I wish I knew how many of those southern dems ultimately left the party for the GOP.

Err. none of them. Byrd of Virginia stopped being able to win Democratic primaries and ran as an independent, but always caucused as a Democrat. The rest all stayed Democrats. Of the Democrats voting against cloture, I believe Cannon was from Nevada, Dodd from Connecticut, and I'm not sure where Lausche was from. The rest are all southerners. john k 21:41, 26 May 2005 (UTC)

Hmmm, that last sentence sounds a little biased -- "some GOP even deny the filibuster happened" -- if true, please state who exactly that was -- and meanwhile, flesh out a little bit what the "differences" are, which are mentioned immediately above -- i.e. that the filibuster against Fortas was based on allegations of misconduct rather than on judicial philosophy.

Per the Findlaw article referenced: 'On April 27, speaking on the Senate floor, Senator Hatch repeated his error. He said, "Some have said that the Abe Fortas nomination for Chief Justice was filibustered. Hardly. I thought it was, too, until I was corrected by the man who led the fight against Abe Fortas, Senator Robert Griffin of Michigan." Hatch then asserted that the former Senator told him, and the Senate Republican caucus, "that there never was a real filibuster because a majority would have beaten Justice Fortas outright." ' In fact Fortas never had an "up or down vote." As for the Republicans claim that the Fortas filibuster was undertaken for ethical rather than political concerns, people around at the time know better. Johnson was a lame duck and the Republicans expected to win the next election and appoint the next Chief Justice (which is what happened). After Fortas withdrew, the Republicans made it clear that they would not allow anyone Johnson nominated to receive a vote. Also there were very similar ethical objections raised against Judge Owen, that she accepted gifts. Much of this is covered in the FindLaw link and the nuclear option (filibuster) article. --agr 20:13, 26 May 2005 (UTC)

I would appreciate an explationation as to why the statement "filibusters are typically mounted by senators who doubt their ability to prevail on an up or down vote" is inaccurate, as claimed in a recent edit. Also it is indisputed that the Republicans came up with the name "nuclear option" to describe their proposal to effectively change Senate rules. --agr 13:56, 22 July 2005 (UTC)

My goodness, changing Senate rules? What a radical thing! 69.253.222.184 (talk) 23:22, 26 April 2008 (UTC)

Is there any evidence that Abe Fortas's first name was actually Abraham? All sources I've seen call him merely Abe. User:Kalimac, 3 Oct 2005

I have been researching Fortas for over a year now. He is Abraham in many official documents from school records to court records.

You are wrong. He was my great uncle. His name was Abe. If you have any other questions about him, I would be glad to answer.

What was the name of Fortas' second firm (i.e., the firm he founded after resigning from SCOTUS)?

Fortas and Koven, which was located in Georgetown on 31st Street in the Canal Square building. Fortas practiced there until he died. Wikikd (talk) 17:33, 22 September 2018 (UTC)

What is meant by "including 200 Johnson votes that had been cast in alphabetical order"? Perhaps this could be clarified. blahpers 21:57, 22 July 2006 (UTC)

I removed this section and was soon after reverted. I have once again removed the information. The article here is about the life and times of Abe Fortas, Supreme Court justice. As such, the article should be about him and only him plus his legacy. The 2005 information is about filibusters. Now granted, the Fortas filibuster was discussed during the debate over whether or not to change the rules, but Fortas himself had no role in that debate. It was not his actions that were under review, merely an action taken in response to his nomination. Therefore, the fact that this filibuster would be discussed at a later date is not apart of Fortas's legacy. The wikipedia page on the senate filibuster needs to cover the 2005 developments, Fortas's page does not. There is quite simply no relation to Fortas's life and legacy and the fact that people wanted to change the filibuster rules at a later date. Indrian 15:07, 31 August 2006 (UTC)

The precedent set by the filibuster of the Fortas Chief Justice nomination is part of his legacy and arguably his most lasting place in American history. The fact that this event became part of a major news story in 2005, 23 years after his death is notable and worthy of inclusion in his bio. To exclude all reference to its current significance would be a disservice to our readers. I would agree that the section you deleted is too long and only a summary of the arguments is needed here.--agr 17:43, 31 August 2006 (UTC) I am still not convinced that this is the proper place for this analysis, but the compromise you have set worth is satisfactory to me for the moment. I have slightly tweaked the section to tie it into his life a little more in the introductory sentence and to remove the heading, which seems to give unecessary focus to this issue since no other headings are found in the article. Indrian 19:14, 31 August 2006 (UTC)

I have taken out the following text: ". for the acceptance of an allegedly illegal payment from a former business associate" from the summary paragraph for two reasons:

1. It is misleadingly broad brush. The kind of payment Fortas received was legal and not uncommon at the time. The problem was that he took it from a man seen as shady. Fortas was asked to resign because the whole thing seemed sleazy and sordid, not necessarily illegal. It is an important distinction. If someone had mounted a full-scale investigation, could they have uncovered some act that could be found to be criminal? Maybe, but who knows? No such investigation was mounted, or even prepared. Fortas' critics may have implied that something illegal might be involved in the affair, but they never actually "alleged" it.

2. It is gratuitous. The circumstances of Fortas’ resignation from the bench are dealt with in depth in the full article. Even if we were to grant the statement that Fortas' took "an allegedly illegal payment," the inclusion of such detail right up front is bad biography. The summary paragraph needs to have a few more sentences explaining why the guy's career was important from the broad standpoint of US history rather than this useless detail about his resignation. Resigned under pressure is enough for the casual user who wants to know who this guy is. Those interested in what kind of pressure and why can look below for the debated details.

I've added that Fortas joined the armed forces in 1945, but was discharged after a month. This is from the Court's official bio. What I cannot readily confirm is the allegation that this was a ruse to get him out of the service very early. The Blue Oyster Cult song "Harvester of Eyes". written by Richard Meltzer, with the line "I'm the eye-man of TV, with my ocular TB," makes reference to this. Meltzer says the televised Senate confirmation hearings on Fortas inspired the lyrics. It's just interesting, but not relevant to the article. But..someone should know! Scott Clarkson 13:14, 4 August 2007 (UTC)


I think the use of the word "secret" in secret payment biases the text. Fortas accepted a payment from Wolfson, not sure on what basis it would be called "secret." Also, this language "expected that his arrangement with Fortas would help him stave off criminal charges or help him secure a presidential pardon" was an allegation, not a fact. Those seeking Fortas' resignation (I would say "seat" but that would be biased) alleged that it was accepted in exchange for such "service" but this was never proved. Fortas did recuse himself from the matter when it came before the bench. So, I'd lose the word "secret" above and add the word "alleged" below.
Wikikd 02:45, 16 September 2007 (UTC) After thinking this over for a year and doing a bit of checking: yes Fortas did recuse himself from the matter --as added above. Also the text, in putting mention of the return of the money after mentioning Wolfson's conviction implies that the funds were returned after Wolfson was convicted. but they were returned earlier. So I moved that fact up to its own sentence before mention of W's conviction. --Wikikd (talk) 02:16, 26 September 2008 (UTC)Wikikd

A temporary subpage at User:Polbot/fjc/Abe Fortas was automatically created by a perl script, based on this article at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges. The subpage should either be merged into this article, or moved and disambiguated. Polbot (talk) 20:53, 4 March 2009 (UTC)

How in the WORLD is there not an iota of mention of the ethics problems of Fortas that caused his nomination to be revoked? This is an amazing omission. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 141.164.83.136 (talk) 19:18, 10 November 2010 (UTC)

Thank you for your suggestion. When you believe an article needs improvement, please feel free to make those changes. Wikipedia is a wiki, so anyone can edit almost any article by simply following the edit this page link at the top. The Wikipedia community encourages you to be bold in updating pages. Don't worry too much about making honest mistakes—they're likely to be found and corrected quickly. If you're not sure how editing works, check out how to edit a page, or use the sandbox to try out your editing skills. New contributors are always welcome. You don't even need to log in (although there are many reasons why you might want to). TJRC (talk) 05:42, 11 November 2010 (UTC)

"Fortas was the architect and author of the broader landmark majority opinion in Epperson v. Arkansas that eventually emerged banning religiously-based creation narratives from public school science curricula."

This isn't what the case did at all, the case simply overturned laws banning the teaching of evolution in public schools (so-called Monkey Laws). Perhaps an edit should be made to reflect this. See Epperson v. Arkansas#Consequences — Preceding unsigned comment added by 74.206.92.227 (talk) 23:17, 15 May 2013 (UTC)

I am finally reading Stanley Karnow's book about the Viet Nam war. On page 436 he makes an interesting case that during the period of time that LBJ was making the decisions that escalated the Viet Nam war his closest and most influential advisor was Abe Fortas. I am surprised that there is no mention of this on his Wikipedia page. I don't feel it is my place to edit the page myself. I am not an expert on the Johnson presidency or the history of the Supreme Court. I am requesting that someone who is look it over, and decide if this information be included. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 66.61.20.206 (talk) 13:17, 4 March 2014 (UTC)

wasn't this an extremely important case involving Abe Fortas? is there a reason why it isn't mentioned? — Preceding unsigned comment added by 24.147.121.191 (talk) 18:18, 8 April 2015 (UTC)

Afroyim v. Rusk exists. Did Fortas have an important role in the case? - Location (talk) 19:46, 8 April 2015 (UTC)

It was a 5-4 case, Fortas voted with the majority. I had thought Fortas wrote the majority opinion but apparently all 5 who voted in favor of Afroyim co-wrote the majority opinion. A link to the Afroyim case wiki page from this page would be a good idea as it was a huge case and a 5-4 vote. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 24.147.121.191 (talk) 12:33, 10 April 2015 (UTC)

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Abe Fortas Net Worth

Let's check, How Rich is Abe Fortas in 2021? Abe Fortas's estimated Net Worth, Salary, Income, Cars, Lifestyles & much more details has been updated below.

Net Worth
Estimated Net Worth in 2021$1 Million - $5 Million (Approx.)
Previous Year's Net Worth (2020)$100,000 - $1 Million
Annual SalaryUnder Review
Income SourcePrimary Income source Supreme Court Justice (profession)

Noted, Currently We don't have enough information about Cars, Monthly/Yearly Salary etc. We will update soon.

Does Abe Fortas Dead or Alive?

As per our current Database, Abe Fortas is died (as per Wikipedia, Last update: September 20, 2020).

Reference: Wikipedia, IMDb, Onthisday. Last update: 2020-12-20 10:27


EX-JUSTICE ABE FORTAS DIES AT 71 SHAPED HISTORIC RULINGS ON RIGHTS

Former Associate Justice Abe Fortas, who resigned from the Supreme Court in 1969, died of a ruptured aorta Monday night at his home here.

At 71 years of age, he maintained an active law practice. Just two weeks before his death, Mr. Fortas returned to the Supreme Court to argue a case for the first time since his resignation. He said in an interview that he planned to keep on practicing law ''until my clients retire me or the Lord retires me.'' Clamor Over $20,000 Fee

Mr. Fortas resigned from the Court amid an uproar over disclosures that he had accepted a $20,000 fee from a foundation controlled by Louis E. Wolfson, a friend and former client who at the time of the payment was under Federal investigation for violating securities laws.

His resignation ended a stormy three-and-a-half-year tenure on the Court, which included an abortive effort by President Johnson to name him Chief Justice, and made Mr. Fortas the only Justice in the history of the Supreme Court to resign under the pressure of public criticism.

For the rest of his life, and conceivably in the history books as well, that fact overshadowed the accomplishments of a long and brilliantly successful legal career. A Washington Insider

His service on the Court was in fact only a chapter, by many accounts a reluctant one, in a career as a consummate Washington insider. Mr. Fortas, who was a protege of Associate Justice William O. Douglas when he was teaching at the Yale Law School, arrived in Washington with the generation of young lawyers who helped shape and carry out the New Deal.

He went on to become a founding partner of one of the capital's most successful law firms and to serve as a friend and confidant to one of Washington's most successful political practitioners, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Their relationship began with legal assistance that Mr. Fortas rendered to Johnson's Senate campaign in 1948. Mr. Fortas was one of the first people Johnson called from Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, and he was waiting at Andrews Air Force Base to meet the new President on the night of President Kennedy's assassination.

In 1965, shortly before Johnson named him to the Court, Mr. Fortas listed himself in the new edition of ''Who's Who in the South and Southwest'' as ''Presidential adviser'' and gave his address as: '⟊re of the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.''

Mr. Fortas was reluctant to give up private practice and turned down Johnson's initial offer of a seat on the Court. Finally, the President summoned his friend to the White House and told him, ''I'm sending 50,000 boys to Vietnam and I'm sending you to the Supreme Court.'' The vacancy was created by the resignation of Arthur J. Goldberg, whom Mr. Johnson had persuaded to leave the Court to become the nation's chief delegate to the United Nations.

His new job meant a drop in income from an estimated $200,000 a year to $39,500. His wife, Carolyn E. Agger, a highly successful tax lawyer, was earning a high income herself, but the difference was still substantial, and Mr. Fortas made pointed jokes about the low level of judicial compensation. Chosen to Argue Major Case

The Supreme Court was familiar territory to the new Associate Justice. Three years earlier, the Court had appointed him to argue on behalf of Clarence Earl Gideon, an indigent Florida prisoner, who had been convicted in the absence of a lawyer of breaking into a pool hall. The case promised to be a major constitutional test of the right to counsel, and the assignment was an honor.

Mr. Fortas and younger lawyers at his firm, Arnold, Fortas & Porter, spent months preparing Mr. Gideon's appeal. Their brief, and Mr. Fortas's oral argument, came to be regarded as models of craftsmanship. The Court ruled unanimously that the Constitution requires the states to assure free counsel for the poor in every serious criminal case.

On the Court, Mr. Fortas established himself as a member of the then dominant liberal bloc. Perhaps his most important opinion came in a juvenile rights case in 1966 called In re Gault, which established for the first time that children facing court proceedings are entitled to many of the constitutional protections enjoyed by adults.

''Under our Constitution,'' Justice Fortas wrote, ''the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.'' Role in Rights Decisions

The Court in the late 1960's, under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren, was in the midst of a historic expansion of individual rights, and Justice Fortas was a full participant in those decisions.

He also remained an active participant in the high councils of state. President Johnson never stopped relying on him for advice, and he never stopped providing it, whether the subject was judicial nominations or foreign policy.

Johnson consulted with Justice Fortas on such matters as steel price increases, transportation strikes and, increasingly, the war in Vietnam.

He once called Albert L. Nickerson, chairman of the Mobil Oil Company, to transmit the President's annoyance with the public prediction by a business group that Mr. Nickerson also chaired that Government spending on the war in Vietnam would be $5 billion more than the Administration had publicly predicted.

''I am a Justice of the Supreme Court, but I am still a citizen,'' Justice Fortas said in defense of his action when that incident came to light. Bid to Make Him Chief Justice

Criticism of Justice Fortas's continued closeness to President Johnson grew and played a role in the failure of the President's effort to give his friend the Chief Justiceship.

In 1968, when Chief Justice Warren told Johnson that he wanted to retire, the President sent Justice Fortas's name to the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee grappled with the nomination over the summer and it was late September, with the Presidential election campaign in full swing, before debate began on the Senate floor.

Mr. Fortas was criticized for his outside activities, his judicial philosophy, and for what a number of senators viewed as excesses of the Warren Court. Partisan politics played a role, too, with Republicans hoping to keep the seat open in the event that Richard M. Nixon won the Presidency.

On Oct. 2, after his supporters failed to end a filibuster on the Senate floor, Mr. Fortas asked Johnson to withdraw his name to end what he called the '⟞structive and extreme assaults upon the Court.''

Johnson complied, calling the Senate's action ''historically and constitutionally tragic.'' The post that was to have been Justice Fortas's went to Warren E. Burger a year later. Resigns After Disclosure

A second crisis confronted Justice Fortas barely seven months after the Senate debacle: the disclosure, in Life Magazine, of his financial relationship with Louis E. Wolfson. The details emerged rapidly after the initial disclosure on May 4, 1969. Justice Fortas submitted his resignation on May 14.

Mr. Fortas accepted the $20,000 fee from the Wolfson family foundation in early 1966, soon after he joined the Court, at a time when Mr. Wolfson was under active Federal investigation. The fee was to be the first installment of an annual $20,000 payment that was to continue for the rest of Mr. Fortas's life and, after his death, for the rest of his wife's life.

However, he canceled the arrangement and returned the fee later that year after Mr. Wolfson was indicted on stock fraud charges. Mr. Fortas's obligations in return for the money were not specified except that he was to help shape the program and activities of the foundation.

When the arrangement came to light in 1969, Mr. Wolfson was in prison and there were cries in Congress for Mr. Fortas's impeachment. Mr. Fortas continued to insist that he had done nothing improper. In the letter of resignation he sent to Chief Justice Warren, he said that although he and Mr. Wolfson had on occasion discussed Mr. Wolfson's ''problems,'' he had never interceded on his friend's behalf. However, he said, ''it seems clear to me that it is not my duty to remain on the Court, but rather to resign in the hope that this will enable the Court to proceed with its vital work free from extraneous stress.'' Blackmun Gets Seat

President Nixon nominated first Clement F. Haynsworth and then G. Harrold Carswell to the vacancy. When both nominations failed, he nominated Harry A. Blackmun. Justice Blackmun today called his predecessor 'ɺ person of great legal ability and talent'' who was 'ɾxtraordinarily nice to me on every occasion.''

Chief Justice Burger issued a statement praising Justice Fortas's ''illustrious career as a member of the bar and in public office.'' Associate Justices William J. Brennan Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, who both served with Justice Fortas, said in a joint statement: ''He was not only an esteemed colleague but also a close friend. We shall miss him.''

Abe Fortas was born June 19, 1910 in Memphis, the youngest of five children. His father, William, was a cabinetmaker, an Orthodox Jew who had immigrated from England. Lifelong Interest in Music

His father encouraged him to take violin lessons, and the boy was soon playing the violin at dances to earn money for college. He retained a serious interest in music and musicians all his life. He played in an informal chamber music group in Washington, and once remarked that music is ''one thing I can't live without.''

He attended public schools in Memphis and received his undergraduate degree from Southwestern College there in 1930. He graduated in 1933 from Yale Law School, first in his class and editor in chief of the Yale Law Journal.

William O. Douglas, who was then teaching at Yale, arranged an assistant professorship for Mr. Fortas, who spent the next four years commuting between the law school and Washington, where Mr. Douglas had gone to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Fortas took on part-time assignments with the commission and other New Deal agencies.

In 1935, he married Carolyn E. Agger, whom he persuaded to go to Yale Law School. She graduated second in her class, and is now a partner at Mr. Fortas's former law firm, which is known now as Arnold & Porter. Represented Big Corporations

He started the firm in 1946 in partnership with Thurman Arnold, who had headed the antitrust division in the Department of Justice. The firm flourished, representing the Washington interests of a number of the country's biggest corporations.

Before going into private practice, Mr. Fortas held a variety of jobs in the Roosevelt Administration, including general counsel of the Public Works Administration and Under Secretary of the Interior. The Interior Secretary, Harold L. Ickes, introduced Mr. Fortas to Lyndon Johnson, then a young Congressman. ''I knew they were both comers and could help one another,'' Mr. Ickes said years later.

In 1948, Johnson won the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate by a margin of 87 votes, and his opponent persuaded a Federal judge to keep Johnson's name off the ballot in the general election so an investigation could be conducted. Helped Johnson Stay on Ballot

Johnson asked Mr. Fortas to help him, and the young lawyer managed to persuade Hugo L. Black, the Supreme Court Justice with supervisory authority over the Federal courts in Texas, to restore Johnson's name to the ballot. Johnson won the election.

In World War II, Mr. Fortas joined the Army but was discharged after a month because of an eye ailment. After his resignation from the Court, Mr. Fortas did not return to his former firm. He practiced with a five-lawyer firm, Fortas & Koven.

He and his wife had no children. They lived in Georgetown and had a summer house in Connecticut. The funeral service is expected to be private, with a public memorial service planned for later this spring.


Watch the video: LBJ and Abe Fortas, 101464 1 of 2.