59 Facts About Abe Fortas


Abraham Fortas was an American lawyer and jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1965 to 1969.


Abe Fortas later became a law professor at Yale Law School and then an advisor for the US Securities and Exchange Commission.


In 1948, Fortas represented Lyndon B Johnson in the hotly contested Democratic senatorial second primary electoral dispute, and he formed close ties with Johnson.


Abe Fortas represented Clarence Earl Gideon before the US Supreme Court, in a landmark case involving the right to counsel.


Abe Fortas later resigned from the Court after a controversy involving his acceptance of $20,000 from financier Louis Wolfson while Wolfson was being investigated for insider trading.


Abe Fortas learned to play the violin from local Catholic nuns at the St Patrick's School next to his house; he then studied chamber music with the leader of a local trio.


Abe Fortas attended South Side High School where, at the age of sixteen, he graduated second in his class in 1926.


Abe Fortas earned scholarships from both Harvard Law School and Yale Law School but ultimately decided to attend Yale, becoming the youngest law student there at 20 years old.


In 1935, Fortas married Carolyn E Agger, who became a successful tax lawyer.


Abe Fortas was an amateur musician who played the violin in a quartet, called the "N Street Strictly-no-refunds String Quartet" on Sunday evenings.


Abe Fortas was a good friend of the first democratically elected Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Munoz Marin, calling him "a spectacularly great figure".


Abe Fortas visited the island often, frequently lobbied for the island's interests in Congress, participated in drafting the Constitution of Puerto Rico, and gave legal advice to Marin's administration whenever requested.


In October 1943, Abe Fortas was granted a leave of absence from the Department of Interior to join the United States Navy for World War II.


Abe Fortas had resigned from his position at the Interior department while in the navy, but was reappointed in January 1944.


Johnson asked Abe Fortas for help, and Abe Fortas persuaded Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black to overturn the ruling.


In 1950, Abe Fortas often clashed with Senator Joseph McCarthy when representing Lattimore before the Tydings Committee, and before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee.


When it became clear that multiple investigations were gearing up simultaneously at the city, state, and federal levels, Abe Fortas changed his mind and advised Johnson to establish the Warren Commission.


Abe Fortas was known in Washington circles to have a serious interest in psychiatry, still a controversial subject at the time.


In 1963, Abe Fortas represented Clarence Earl Gideon in his appeal before the Supreme Court.


Johnson thought that some of his "Great Society" reforms could be ruled unconstitutional by the Court and felt that Abe Fortas would let him know if that was to happen.


Abe Fortas was confirmed by the US Senate on August 11,1965, and took the judicial oath of office on October 4,1965.


Abe Fortas's appointment ensured the continuation of the Warren Court's liberal majority.


Abe Fortas continued to serve as an adviser to Johnson after becoming an associate justice.


Abe Fortas attended White House staff meetings, advising the president on judicial nominations and discussing private Supreme Court deliberations with him.


In 1968, Abe Fortas wrote a book called Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience.


Abe Fortas had mostly good working relations with his fellow justices, although they worried that he talked to President Johnson too much.


Abe Fortas clashed with his fellow Associate Justice Hugo Black during much of his time on the Court.


Abe Fortas said that the State Constitution of 1824, allowing the legislature to choose the governor if no one wins a majority in the general election, was at odds with the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution:.


Abe Fortas was critical of justices who frequently broke into attorneys' arguments to ask questions.


Abe Fortas elaborated on his critique the following year in the case of In re Gault.


Abe Fortas used the case to launch a ferocious attack on the juvenile justice system and parens patriae.


Abe Fortas's majority opinion was a landmark, extending the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantees of right to sufficient notice, right to counsel, right to confrontation of witnesses, and right against self-incrimination to certain juvenile proceedings.


Two years later, Fortas wrote another landmark in children's rights with the decision in the case of Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District, involving two high school students and one junior high school student, who had been suspended for wearing black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War.


In 1968, Abe Fortas persuaded the court to accept the appeal of Little Rock Central High School teacher Sue Epperson who had challenged Arkansas's anti-evolution law, with the support of the state teachers union.


Abe Fortas believed in an expanded executive branch and a less powerful legislative branch.


Abe Fortas was the first sitting associate justice, nominated for chief justice, ever to appear before the Senate.


Abe Fortas underwent four days of questioning about his legal career, judicial philosophy, and his relationship with President Johnson.


Abe Fortas condemned Fortas for voting with the majority to overturn obscenity laws dealing with pornographic films.


Republican Senator John Cornyn asserted in 2003 that several senators who opposed Abe Fortas asserted at the time they were not conducting a perpetual filibuster and were not trying to prevent a final up-or-down vote from occurring.


Public debate occasionally still occurs over whether Abe Fortas would have been confirmed in a simple majority vote.


The Abe Fortas nomination is seen as a harbinger of later filibusters of judicial nominees.


Abe Fortas remained an associate justice, but in 1969, a new scandal arose.


Abe Fortas had accepted a US$20,000 retainer from the family foundation of Wall Street financier Louis Wolfson, a friend and former client, in January 1966.


However, in order to avoid apparent impropriety, Abe Fortas returned the money the same year and received no further payments.


Abe Fortas was not unique in receiving this type of funding and other Justices had similar arrangements.


Wolfson was under investigation for securities violations at the time, and it was alleged that he expected that his arrangement with Abe Fortas would help him stave off criminal charges or help him secure a presidential pardon.


Abe Fortas asked Fortas to help him secure a pardon from Johnson, which Fortas claimed that he did not do.


Abe Fortas recused himself from Wolfson's case when it came before the Court.


In May 1969, Life magazine chronicled Abe Fortas's tangled relations with Wolfson.


Chief Justice Earl Warren urged Abe Fortas to resign to protect the reputation of the Court and avoid impeachment proceedings, as did Justice Hugo Black.


Nonetheless, Fortas ultimately decided resignation would be best for him and for his wife's legal career after Attorney General John N Mitchell threatened to prosecute him, and potentially investigate his wife for tax evasion.


The Washington Post subsequently published several excerpts from the transcript, including language suggesting that Abe Fortas might indeed have spoken with President Johnson about a pardon for Wolfson, but there is no evidence that it was a quid pro quo rather than a voluntary intervention for a friend.


Abe Fortas's earlier failed nominations were of Clement Haynsworth in September 1969 and G Harrold Carswell in February 1970.


Abe Fortas turned down an offer to publish his memoirs.


Johnson and Abe Fortas remained great friends, with the latter often visiting the former president at his ranch near Stonewall, Texas, until his death in 1973.


Abe Fortas was asked to donate his papers to Johnson's presidential library by Lady Bird Johnson, but he replied that his correspondence with Johnson had always been kept in strictest confidence.


Abe Fortas served as a longtime member of the board of directors of Carnegie Hall, including while he was on the Supreme Court.


Abe Fortas served on the board of the Kennedy Center since its opening in 1964.


Abe Fortas died from a ruptured aorta on April 5,1982.