Abe Fortas was born on June 19, 1910 to Jewish parents, William Fortas and Ray Berson. Abe Fortas was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of an immigrant cabinetmaker. He married Carolyn Eugenia Agger in 1935. He died on April 5, 1982, at the age of seventy-one, in Washington D.C.
In 1930, Fortas graduated with a B.A. from Southwestern University in Memphis. Fortas completed his law degree at Yale Law School in 1933.
After graduation, Fortas taught law at Yale for one year.
Fortas was admitted to the Connecticut state bar in 1934 and to the District of Columbia bar in 1945. He was quickly lured to the New Deal lawyers in Washington. Following World War II, Fortas and two associates established a law partnership in Washington, D.C., specializing in corporate law. He practiced in the District of Columbia from 1947-1965. During his years of private practice in Washington, Fortas found time to defend victims of McCarthyism and litigate important cases, including Gideon v. Wainwright which established the right of the poor to counsel in state criminal cases.
Fortas provided behind-the-scenes advice to Democratic politicians. He had represented Lyndon B. Johnson when Johnson's eighty-four-vote victory in the 1948 Texas Democratic primary was challenged. From 1934 to 1939, he held a series of positions in the newly created Securities and Exchange Commission. He was the Assistant director of Securities and Exchange Commission from 1937-39. In the latter year, he became General Counsel to the Public Works Administration. In 1941, Fortas was appointed director of the division of power in the Department of the Interior, and one year later was named Under Secretary.
After two decades of private practice, Fortas was appointed byPresident Lyndon B. Johnson to the Supreme Court of the United States on July 28, 1965. The Senate confirmed the appointment onAugust 11, 1965. He was commissioned in August 11, 1965 and he was sworn in on October 4, 1965. In 1969, Life magazine revealed that Fortas had accepted and then returned a fee of $20,000 from a charitable foundation controlled by the family of an indicted stock manipulator. Fortas resigned from the bench on May 14, 1969 but denied any wrongdoing. He returned to private practice after serving on the Supreme Court for three years.
Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience (1968)
Criminal Justice Without Pity' (1973)
Fortas was the only justice in history to resign under pressure. He was being accused of financial irregularities for funds he received in extra-judicial activities.
More Biographical Information:
- Abe Fortas From the Oyez Project (Northwestern University).
- Abe Fortas Oral History Interview By Joe B. Frantz. From the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library Oral History Collection.
- Architects of Gideon: Remembering Abe Fortas and Hugo Black By Abe Krash. From the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
- Fortas, Abe Encyclopaedia Britannica
- Judges of the United States Courts From the Federal Judicial Center
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