1965 October 4

Abe Fortas Joins Supreme Court


Abe Fortas was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson and joined the Court on this day. Fortas was an old friend and political ally of LBJ, having served as a lawyer who helped him win his contested 1948 election to the Senate. Johnson persuaded Justice Arthur Goldberg to resign and become Ambassador to the United Nations in order to create a vacancy on the Court. (In those years there was an informal “Jewish seat” on the Court that included Brandeis, Cardozo, Frankfurter, Goldberg, and then Fortas.) Both Goldberg and Fortas were strong supporters of civil liberties, and so Fortas’ appointment did not change the orientation of the Court. Many observers believe that LBJ wanted his friend Fortas on the Court in case there were constitutional challenges to Great Society programs.

Fortas had represented Clarence Gideon in the famous Gideon v. Wainwright case that affirmed a constitutional right to an attorney for felony defendants. Fortas’ important opinions for the Supreme Court included In re Gault (May 15, 1967), which declared many routine practices of juvenile courts unconstitutional; Tinker v. Des Moines (February 24, 1969), which affirmed the free speech rights of public school students; and Epperson v. Arkansas (November 12, 1968), which overturned an Arkansas law banning the teaching of evolution, similar to the Tennessee law in the famous Scopes Monkey Trial (July 10, 1925).

Read: Bruce Allen Murphy, Fortas: The Rise and Ruin of a Supreme Court Justice (1988)

Listen to phone conversations between Fortas and President Lyndon Johnson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4IN95jwaL4

Find a Day

Abortion Rights ACLU african-americans Alice Paul anti-communism Anti-Communist Hysteria Birth Control Brown v. Board of Education Censorship CIA Civil Rights Civil Rights Act of 1964 Cold War Espionage Act FBI First Amendment Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech Free Speech Gay Rights Hate Speech homosexuality Hoover, J. Edgar HUAC Japanese American Internment King, Dr. Martin Luther Ku Klux Klan Labor Unions Lesbian and Gay Rights Loyalty Oaths McCarthy, Sen. Joe New York Times Obscenity Police Misconduct Same-Sex Marriage Separation of Church and State Sex Discrimination Smith Act Spying Spying on Americans Vietnam War Voting Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 War on Terror Watergate White House Women's Rights Women's Suffrage World War I World War II Relocation Camps


Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!