Abe Fortas

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Fortas, Abe

(fôr`təs), 1910–82, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1965–69), b. Memphis, Tenn. After receiving his law degree from Yale in 1933, he taught there (1933–37) and also held a variety of government posts. He was (1942–46) undersecretary of the interior before entering private law practice. Among his notable contributions to criminal law were his arguments in the Durham Case (1954), which helped broaden the definition of legal insanity, and in Gideon v. Wainwright (1962), in which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that states must assure free legal counsel to the poor in every criminal trial. A close friend and adviser to President Lyndon B. Johnson, he was appointed by the president to succeed Arthur GoldbergGoldberg, Arthur,
1908–90, American labor lawyer and jurist, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1962–65), b. Chicago. He received his law degree from Northwestern Univ. in 1929.
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 on the Supreme Court. There he continued to support the expansion of criminal rights and joined with the other liberal justices in most civil liberties cases. In antimonopoly cases, he often sided with the minority in upholding business. In 1968, President Johnson nominated Fortas as chief justice of the United States; Republicans and Southern Democrats held a Senate filibuster against the nomination, causing President Johnson to withdraw Fortas's nomination. The following year, Fortas resigned from the court after it was revealed that he had, while on the bench, accepted $20,000 from a private foundation; the money was part of a life stipend to Fortas by the foundation. Although he returned the money, Fortas resigned from the court under public pressure, the first justice to do so.


See R. Shogan, A Question of Judgment: The Fortas Case and the Struggle for the Supreme Court (1972).

Fortas, Abe

(1910–82) Supreme Court justice; born in Memphis, Tenn. After teaching at Yale Law School (1933–37), he served in a series of several government agencies (1937–45) before becoming an adviser to the U.S. delegation to the organizational meeting of the United Nations (1945) and to the first session of the General Assembly (1946). He then began to practice law privately in Washington, D.C., combining a corporate practice with cases in defense of civil liberties. For years he had been an unofficial adviser to Lyndon Johnson, who in 1965 appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court and then nominated him for chief justice in 1968; conservatives who opposed him during the Senate confirmation proceedings forced him to withdraw. In 1969 it was revealed that he had been accepting money from a foundation set up by a man convicted of stock manipulation, and Fortas became the first man ever forced to resign from the Supreme Court. He returned to private practice.