Fortas, Abe

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Fortas, Abe

Abe Fortas (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 Goldberg 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).

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