Abe Fortas was an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court in the 1960s. He was a good lawyer and a decent judge, but ended up being too Washingtonian for his own good. More on that in a bit.

Fortas was born in Memphis on June 19, 1910, and graduated from Yale Law School. He was an understudy of Professor William O. Douglas, who arranged to have Fortas hired as an associate professor upon his graduation. Douglas and Fortas later served together on the Supreme Court. After a few years at Yale, Fortas was appointed to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, and he shuffled through a few posts in the Roosevelt administration before leaving the government in 1948 and starting a law firm, now Arnold Porter LLP (one of the largest law firms in the US today).

In private practice, Fortas represented many clients in many, many cases. His most famous gig was as Clarence Gideon's attorney in Gideon v. Wainwright, an important Supreme Court case dealing with the constitutional right to counsel. But the more important gig for Fortas' career came in 1948, his first year of private practice, when a certain Texan named Lyndon B. Johnson hired Fortas to represent him in a disputed Senate race. Johnson won the election after Fortas persuaded Justice Hugo Black to intercede, and thus LBJ's twelve years as Master of the Senate began. Fortas and Johnson remained friends for many years afterward, and Fortas became one of Johnson's closest confidantes in Washington.

After Johnson became president, in 1965, he persuaded Justice Arthur J. Goldberg to leave the Supreme Court and replace Adlai Stevenson as Ambassador to the United Nations. This opened up a seat on the Supreme Court. Johnson turned to Fortas for advice on who to nominate, and told Fortas that he could have the job, but Fortas declined because he would have to take a much lower salary than he was making at the law firm. Johnson invited Fortas to attend a surprise announcement of the nominee... and that nominee turned out to be Fortas, who was confirmed and took his seat that year.

Fortas was Johnson's first nominee to replace Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1968, but Republicans and southern Democrats in the Senate successfully filibustered Fortas' nomination. Although Fortas was not accused of corruption, he was found to be in the legitimate pay of a number of third parties who hired him for speaking engagements and similar purposes, and this cast doubt upon his impartiality. Warren stayed on the court for the time being. Then, in 1969, Fortas was found to have received money from an organization controlled by a businessman, Louis Wolfson, being investigated for securities law violations. When this news broke, Warren (who would shortly be replaced by Judge Warren Burger) persuaded Fortas to resign. Richard Nixon appointed Harry A. Blackmun to replace Fortas.

Fortas died in 1982 but has been resurrected amid several contemporary political debates, including the debate over judicial filibustering in the Senate, and the debate over Bush nominee Harriet Miers (a similarly capable, but perhaps too well-connected, candidate for the Court).

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