Fortas, Abe

Fortas, Abe
born June 19, 1910, Memphis, Tenn., U.S.
died April 6, 1982, Washington, D.C.

U.S. jurist.

He graduated from Yale University Law School (1933), where he studied under William O. Douglas before following him to the Securities and Exchange Commission. As cofounder of a major Washington, D.C., law firm (1946), he represented some of the largest U.S. corporations. In 1963 he successfully argued the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the right of the accused to counsel in criminal trials, regardless of ability to pay. Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, a close friend, nominated Fortas to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1965. Johnson attempted to elevate him to chief justice in 1968, but his nomination faced a filibuster in the Senate, and Fortas requested that his name be withdrawn from consideration. In 1969 Fortas resigned from the Court following a threat of impeachment over his dealings with a financier who was subsequently imprisoned for securities violations.

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▪ United States jurist
born June 19, 1910, Memphis, Tenn., U.S.
died April 6, 1982, Washington, D.C.

      lawyer and associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1965–69). Nominated to replace Earl Warren (Warren, Earl) as chief justice by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson (Johnson, Lyndon B.) in 1968, Fortas became the first nominee for that post since 1795 to fail to win Senate approval. The following year he became the first Supreme Court justice to resign under threat of impeachment.

      Fortas was the son of William Fortas, an Orthodox Jew (Orthodox Judaism) and cabinetmaker who had immigrated to the United States from England, and Ray Berson Fortas. He graduated from Southwestern (now Rhodes) College in 1930, after which he attended Yale Law School, where he became editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal and graduated in 1933. A protégé of future Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas (Douglas, William O.)—who was then teaching law at Yale—he became an assistant professor of law at Yale and then became assistant director (1937), under Douglas, of the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. Fortas held a number of government posts, including undersecretary of the interior and general counsel to the Public Works Administration, before entering private law practice in Washington, D.C., in 1946. The law firm that he cofounded represented the Washington interests of many of the country's largest corporations. In 1963 Fortas successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the right of the accused in criminal trials to assigned counsel, regardless of ability to pay.

      In July 1965, after President Johnson had persuaded Justice Arthur Goldberg (Goldberg, Arthur J.) to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Johnson nominated Fortas, an old and trusted friend and adviser, to the Supreme Court. He was confirmed by the Senate by voice vote on August 11. Three years later Johnson nominated Fortas to replace retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren. Fortas generally had sided with the liberal court majority, and his nomination was quickly assailed by various critics, who also cited his continued counsel on policy to Johnson and his acceptance of $15,000 for a series of university seminars. When the nomination came to the Senate floor, a filibuster ensued. Shortly afterward, Fortas requested that his name be withdrawn from consideration, and the president complied. In 1969 Fortas's earlier financial involvement with a financier who was subsequently imprisoned for securities violations appeared likely to precipitate impeachment proceedings in Congress; in May Fortas, declaring his innocence, resigned from the court. Subsequently he returned to private practice.

Brian P. Smentkowski

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Fortas, Abe — (b. 1910)    US Supreme Court judge. A southerner from Memphis, Tennessee, Fortas was the son of a cabinet maker. Upon completing his law studies, he taught at Yale Law School before entering government service. During the war years, 1942–6, he… …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

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  • Fortas,Abraham — For·tas (fôrʹtəs), Abraham. Known as “Abe.” 1910 1982. American jurist who served as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1965 1969) but resigned over a public controversy about his private finances. * * * …   Universalium

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