LBJ's Nomination of Abe Fortas to the Supreme Court, July 1965

By Kent Germany

In mid-July, 1965, Associate Justice Arthur Goldberg stepped down from the Supreme Court to take over as UN Ambassador. President Johnson wanted Abe Fortas, his longtime attorney and confidant, to be the replacement. Fortas demurred, but Johnson was not deterred. While he considered several other candidates, including a number of Republicans, Johnson did not stop pressuring Fortas and eventually got his man.

President Johnson and Senator Richard Russell

July 19, 1965, 6:07 P.M.


Citation #8352, WH66507.04. LBJ Library

President Johnson explains Abe Fortas’s qualifications to Senator Richard Russell, emphasizing Fortas’s skills as a “craftsman,” a “technician,” and a "teacher" as well as being "one of the great lawyers of this country."


President Johnson and Ramsey Clark

July 23, 1965, 4:25 P.M.


Citation #8381, WH6507.07. LBJ Library

Ramsey Clark, a Texan, was Deputy Attorney General and the son of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Thomas Clark. In an over 35-minute call, he spoke to President Johnson about judicial appointments and other matters. The two men were keenly aware of political constituencies and discussed the merits of appointing a black judge, an Italian judge, a Jewish judge, and a woman judge. In this first clip, Ramsey and President Johnson discussed appointing a female to the Supreme Court. Both wanted to put a woman on the court and put more women in the federal judiciary, but worried that an appointment at this time would appear “gimmicky.”


President Johnson and Ramsey Clark

July 23, 1965


Citation #8382, WH6507.07. LBJ Library

In this clip, Johnson asked Ramsey Clark if they would “catch much hell on Abe Fortas.” Ramsey provided an enthusiastic endorsement, explaining that Fortas would be a “truly distinguished appointment” and that “history will show that you appointed a great judge.”


President Johnson and Abe Fortas

July 28, 1965, 11:48 A.M.


Citation #8406, WH6507.09. LBJ Library

Although Fortas had rebuffed the President, Johnson decided to hold a press conference to announce him as the nominee. In this call, Johnson invited him to watch the proceedings.


President Johnson and Mike Mansfield

July 30, 1965, 10:00 A.M.


Citation #8415, WH6507.09. LBJ Library

Johnson had irritated Fortas's wife, the well-known tax attorney Carol Agger, by pressing forward with the nomination. In his pithy style, Johnson worried that pushing back Judiciary Committee hearings to accommodate Agger was a serious political mistake.


President Johnson and Abe Fortas

August 10, 1965, 1:30 P.M.


Citation #8427, WH6508.03. LBJ Library

Johnson congratulated Fortas on a unanimous vote of support from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Fortas was confirmed by the full Senate the next day and sworn in on October 4.