Today In History – May 15

Abe Fortas was a renowned and well-respected United States Supreme Court Justice known for his sharp intellect and legal expertise. However, his promising career ended abruptly when he became the first Justice of the Supreme Court to resign under the threat of impeachment on May 15, 1964.

The controversy surrounding Fortas began when President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated him to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court following the retirement of Earl Warren. However, Fortas’s nomination was met with opposition from Republicans and conservative Democrats who were critical of his liberal judicial philosophy and close relationship with the President.

To make matters worse, it was revealed that Fortas had accepted a $20,000 retainer from a foundation run by a wealthy businessman without disclosing this to his fellow justices or recusing himself from cases in which the businessman had an interest. This conflict of interest raised serious questions about Fortas’s integrity and impartiality and led to calls for his impeachment.

Fortas initially refused to step down and instead offered to limit his participation in certain cases to avoid any conflict of interest. However, the controversy continued to escalate, and he eventually decided to resign under pressure from fellow justices and Congress members who threatened to impeach him.

The resignation was a significant blow to Fortas and to the Court itself, as it marked the first time in the history of the Supreme Court that a sitting Justice had been forced to resign under threat of impeachment. It also raised concerns about the ethics and integrity of the Court and led to calls for greater transparency and accountability among the justices.

Despite the controversy surrounding his resignation, Fortas remained a respected legal scholar and advocated for liberal causes. His legacy as a brilliant legal mind and influential figure in American jurisprudence lives on, even as his resignation under threat of impeachment serves as a cautionary tale for future generations of Supreme Court justices.

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