Abe Fortas Biography

(U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice)

Birthday: June 19, 1910 (Gemini)

Born In: Memphis

Abraham "Abe" Fortas was an American Supreme Court associate justice, the first nominee for the post of chief justice since 1795 who failed to win Senate approval. He was a noted civil libertarian, who served only four years in the Supreme Court before a series of charges led to his resignation. He became the first Supreme Court justice to resign under threat of impeachment. When President Lyndon Johnson nominated him for the post of chief justice of Supreme Court, his professional relationship with Johnson came under scrutiny and he faced hostile questioning from the U.S. Senate. During a Congressional hearing on his nomination, he was intensely grilled by conservative legislators and eventually his name was withdrawn. He also faced some other allegations which stirred controversy and examined his reputation of being the associate justice of Supreme Court. Despite all the accusations, he is considered an extraordinarily intelligent person with a great deal of understanding about politics. He was also the co-founder of one of Washington's most influential law firms of its time which is currently placed among the largest law firms in the world. He could be aptly described as a complex and wise man, a great attorney who also happened to be a brilliant and able judge.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 71


Spouse/Ex-: Carolyn Eugenia Agger

father: William Fortas

mother: Ray Berson

Judges Lawyers

Died on: April 5, 1982

place of death: Washington, D.C.

U.S. State: Tennessee

City: Memphis, Tennessee

More Facts

education: Yale Law School, Rhodes College

Childhood & Early Life
He was born on June 19, 1910 in Memphis, Tennessee to William Fortas, a cabinetmaker, and his wife, Ray Berson. He was the youngest of the couple’s five children. His parents were Orthodox Jews of British origin.
He received his early education from the public schools in Memphis and did his high school graduation from the South Side High School in 1926.
After high school, he was enrolled at the Southwestern College, Memphis and graduated in 1930. Then he attended the Yale Law School and obtained his law degree in 1933. While studying, he also served as the editor in chief of the ‘Yale Law Journal’.
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After completing law, he was appointed an assistant professor of law at the Yale Law School. He also started work as an adviser at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Washington, D.C.
In 1939, he worked as the General Counsel of the Public Works Administration and later, in 1941, became the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
In 1946, after the World War II ended, he co-founded and became partner in a law firm, Arnold & Fortas, along with his former Yale Professor, Thurman Arnold. At the same time, he struck a lifelong friendship with Lyndon Johnson.
In 1948, he defended Johnson in a challenge to his Texas Democratic senatorial primary victory. There were serious allegations of corruption against Johnson regarding the voting process but he helped in proving Johnson innocent and become a Senator.
In 1950s, he was appointed the defense attorney for Owen Lattimore, an American author.
In 1963, Johnson became the president after Kennedy was assassinated. Fortas was instrumental in formation of Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Next year, Johnson won the presidency in his own right and appointed Fortas as a trusted adviser.
In 1965, Johnson persuaded Justice Arthur J. Goldberg to become the United States Ambassador to the United Nations so that Fortas could replace Goldberg. On August 11, 1965, the Senate elected Fortas as the associate justice of the Supreme Court.
In June 1968, he was nominated by Johnson for the post of Chief Justice of Supreme Court. But, he faced intense interrogation from the U.S. Senate about his relationship with President Johnson. He faced allegations of counseling Johnson about national political matters frequently while being a Supreme Court associate justice.
Alongside, it was also publicized that he had received $15,000 from private sources that represented business interests, to conduct a series of university seminars in the summer of 1968.The conservatives in the Senate effectively filibustered his nomination and Johnson eventually withdrew the nomination. He continued as the associate justice of the Supreme Court, until he resigned in 1969 under the threat of impeachment.

He returned to his private practice following his resignation and founded another firm, Fortas and Koven, and maintained a successful law practice. He also served as a longtime member of the board of directors of Carnegie Hall and a fellow on the board of the Kennedy Center.
Major Works
In 1966, he was one of the judges who supported the landmark decision in Miranda v. Arizona case which made it mandatory for the police to inform suspects of their rights when being placed under arrest.
After becoming the associate justice, he became a supporter of children’s and student’s rights during his tenure. In 1967, he ruled in favor of upholding the rights of due process for juveniles in the famous Gault case.
Personal Life & Legacy
On July 9, 1935, he married Carolyn Eugenia Agger, whom he had met while studying at Yale. She later became a successful tax lawyer. The couple had no children.
He was also an amateur musician and played the violin in a quartet, called the "N Street Strictly-no-refunds String Quartet" on Sundays.
He died on April 5, 1982, at the age of 71, in Washington D.C. from a ruptured aorta.
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