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Remembering Abe Fortas and Hugo Black
By Abe Krash
The principal architects of the
Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v.Wainwright1
were Abe Fortas, a brilliant advocate, and Hugo Black, a great jurist. Fortas,
who was then a lawyer in private practice in Washington, DC, was appointed by
the Supreme Court to represent Clarence Earl Gideon in connection with his
appeal. He wrote the brief and presented the oral argument on Gideon’s behalf.
Justice Black was the author of the Court’s opinion upholding the
constitutional right to counsel of indigent persons in all state court felony
prosecutions. Fortas and Black were each remarkable men, and the decision bears
the imprimatur of both.
For those two, this case was a high
water mark. In his memoirs, Justice Douglas wrote that Fortas’ oral
presentation in Gideon was “probably the best single legal argument”
Douglas heard in his 36 years on the Court.2
A recent biographer of Justice
Black, describing the scene at the Supreme Court on March 18, 1963, when Black
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