Did the FBI Try to Blackmail Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas

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Mr. Stein is an associate professor of history at York University in Toronto, the author of City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972 (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and the editor-in-chief of the award-winning Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in America (Scribners, 2003).

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A controversial FBI file that reportedly contains allegations of homosexual conduct by Abe Fortas, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in the 1960s, is missing, according to the FBI. Never proven, the allegations may have been made as a way for the FBI to threaten Fortas with exposure, encourage his resignation, or prevent his appointment as Chief Justice.

Fortas has been in the news recently because of inaccurate Republican claims about the history of the filibuster and the history of judicial appointments. In 1968 Fortas, who had served as an Associate Justice since 1965, was nominated by President Lyndon Johnson to replace Earl Warren as Chief Justice. Fortas was denied confirmation because of a Republican-led filibuster in the U.S. Senate. According to historians who have studied the episode, the filibuster was motivated in part by concerns about financial improprieties and in part by objections to Fortas’s close ties to Johnson (the two reasons commonly invoked by journalists), but also by false allegations made by Senator Strom Thurmond (and others) about Fortas’s roles in a set of rape and obscenity cases and by anti-Semitic objections to what would have been the nation’s first Jewish Chief Justice. Because of the timing of these developments, Republican Richard Nixon, elected in November 1968, gained the power to appoint Warren’s successor, and in 1969 the Democratic-led Senate confirmed Nixon’s nominee Warren Burger. Fortas resigned from the Court in 1969 and was replaced by Harry Blackmun, also nominated by Nixon.

Several years ago, Laura Kalman, the author of Abe Fortas: A Biography (Yale University Press, 1990), encouraged me to look into the allegations about Fortas’s homosexuality after she heard a paper I presented at the annual convention of the Organization of American Historians. Kalman’s book discusses several of the reasons that may have led Fortas to resign from the Court shortly after the filibuster against his appointment as Chief Justice proved successful. (A majority, but not the needed two-thirds, of the senators present voted for cloture, thus preventing what U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has called an “up or down vote.”) Kalman writes (on page 375),

Other gossip was more startling. No one who knew of Fortas’s enthusiastic heterosexuality would ever have accused him of homosexuality, but [New York Times reporter Fred] Graham and [Life magazine reporter William] Lambert were told, presumably by sources within the government who offered to ‘bootleg’ the information ‘out of the FBI’, that the FBI had a morals file on Fortas that included allegations he had once been involved in a sexual relationship with a teenage boy. Regardless of their truth, such stories were damaging.
Kalman cites as documentation a conversation with Lambert in Graham’s papers at the Library of Congress.

Some years after Kalman’s biography was published, J. J. Maloney published a related article in the electronic Crime Magazine: An Encyclopedia of Crime. (The website identifies Maloney as a convicted murderer who served 13 years in prison and then became an award-winning journalist, receiving five Pulitzer Prize nominations, the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel prize, and the American Society of Newspaper Publishers award for Best Investigative Story.) Maloney’s article consists for the most part of two documents purportedly obtained from the FBI (with various words and sentences blacked out). The first, dated July 20, 1967, discusses “an active and aggressive homosexual who has been an informant of the Washington Field Office” and who “over the years has provided a great deal of reliable information.” According to this document, the informant told a Washington Field Office agent that “he had ‘balled’ with Abe Fortas on several occasions prior to Mr. Fortas’ becoming a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.” The informant reportedly indicated that “to ‘ball’ is to have a homosexual relationship with another male.”

The second document, dated July 24, 1967, is a letter from the FBI’s Cartha DeLoach to the FBI’s Clyde Tolson. It reads, in part,

Pursuant to the Director’s instructions, I saw Justice Fortas at his home.... I told him we had received an allegation from a source of information reflecting participation in homosexual activities on his part. I stated that the Director wanted this matter discreetly and informally brought to his attention so that he would be aware of such an allegation. I mentioned that the FBI was taking no further action in connection with this matter and that the fact that the Director was making this available to him was strictly for his own personal protection and knowledge. Justice Fortas was handed the attached memorandum so that he could read it personally. After reading this memorandum, he told me that the charges were ridiculous and absolutely false. He stated he had never committed a homosexual act in his life and while he might be properly accused of normal sexual relations while a young man and during his married life, he most certainly had never committed homosexual acts at any time.... Justice Fortas expressed great appreciation for having been provided with the above facts. He asked that his thanks be extended to the Director for having handled the matter in this manner.

In 2003, Susan Braudy’s book Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left (Knopf) made a passing reference to the allegations about Fortas. According to Braudy (page 331), “In fact, Fortas resigned because of J. Edgar Hoover’s threat of blackmail: an FBI agent had visited Fortas in 1968 to inform him of Hoover’s ‘concern’ that Fortas had been seen at a homosexual bar. It was left to President Nixon to appoint Fortas’s successor as well as the chief justice. Thus did Hoover deliver a history-changing coup de grace to the liberal Supreme Court.”

Braudy cites the FBI’s file on Fortas, adding in her footnotes (page 431),

It would be many years before a hint of more complicated factors leading to Fortas’s resignation surfaced. According to a document from the FBI files, an FBI agent had visited Fortas and politely explained that on Director Hoover’s orders, he was alerting Fortas to the dismaying fact that an informant had seen Fortas at a homosexual club. Abe Fortas thanked his visitor and resigned from the Supreme Court.
I have written to Braudy via her publisher, but have not received a response.

In late 2004, I contacted the FBI to request an appointment to see the pertinent Fortas file during a planned research trip to Washington, D.C. I had determined that I was looking for O&C Files, Abe Fortas Folder 71, which was listed on the FBI’s website as available in the FBI’s public reading room. Having previously filed Freedom of Information Act requests and having previously worked with materials in the FBI’s public reading room, I expected that I would have to go to the reading room to see the file, but when I telephoned I was told that the file contained just six pages and these materials could be photocopied and sent to me. In February, however, I received a letter about my request signed by David Hardy, the section chief of the Record/Information Dissemination Section of the FBI’s Records Management Division. According to the letter, “Information which might relate to your FOIA request in our Reading Room is unavailable at this time. The original and blacked out copy are missing at this time. When this information becomes available, it will be provided to you.”

Shortly thereafter I called the FBI’s Records Management Division and spoke with a staff member named Debbie Beatty, who explained that the documents “existed at one time” but apparently had been “misplaced.” No further information was forthcoming, but I asked if I might send to the FBI a copy of the Crime Magazine materials so that the FBI might let me know whether or not they were (or appeared to be) authentic. Ms. Beatty agreed to see what she could do. On March 15, I received a second letter from Mr. Hardy, who wrote, “After a thorough search, we are unable to locate the files pertaining to Abe Fortas, therefore, we cannot confirm that the document is in fact an FBI document. From the appearance of the document, it is very similar to the way the FBI processes documents.”

What are the likely explanations for the recent FBI responses to my query? The consensus of the scholars I have consulted is that there are three possibilities. One is that the materials are missing because of administrative mistakes or administrative incompetence. A second is that the materials were stolen by someone who had access to them in the FBI reading room. A third is that the materials are being withheld as a result of a decision made by someone at the FBI, the Justice Department, the White House, or another government agency with authority over the documents.

If the primary documents discussed by Kalman, Maloney, and Braudy are authentic (by which I mean that they exist, not that they are necessarily accurate), what are the implications for historical interpretation? To begin with, it is important to acknowledge that while all of the documents refer to allegations about same-sex sexual conduct by Fortas, their claims differ in important respects. For instance, if the Maloney documents are the basis for the accounts given by Kalman’s and Braudy’s sources, the references in the latter to a “teenage boy,” a “homosexual bar,” and a “homosexual club” may have been elaborations or inventions, since they do not appear in the Maloney materials. The comment about a “teenage boy” is particularly inflammatory, and here it is important to note that the phrase could refer as readily to a 19- year-old as it could to a 13-year old, and the allegation does not indicate Fortas’s age when this incident occurred. More generally, this episode may have much to teach us about the history of sexual gossip, rumor, shame, and pride, all of which have emerged as topics of significant interest to the public and the profession.

Whether or not the allegations about Fortas were true (by which I mean that they provided truthful accounts of Fortas’s sexual conduct), they will likely be of interest to historians of sexual behavior, sexual identity, and the relationship between the two. They also have the potential for influencing our understanding of national politics and sexual politics during this period, and especially the history of the FBI, the Senate, and the White House during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. As for the history of the Supreme Court, Fortas played an important role in several sex-related rulings in the 1960s, and we may want to understand the rulings and the allegations in relation to one another. In 1966 Fortas voted with narrow majorities in three obscenity rulings (Fanny Hill, Ginzburg, and Mishkin). In Ginzburg and Mishkin (which dealt in part with materials produced for the gay market), the Court upheld obscenity convictions, though Fortas later expressed regret about his votes. Then in 1967 Fortas was one of three dissenters in one of the Court’s first gay rights cases, Boutilier v. the INS, which upheld the deportation of a Canadian “homosexual” on the grounds that under U.S. immigration law homosexuals were excludable and deportable because they were “afflicted with psychopathic personality.” In the oral arguments on Boutilier, Fortas aggressively questioned the government lawyer on the INS claim that homosexuality was intrinsically psychopathological. Two months after the Court announced its ruling in Boutilier, the FBI’s DeLoach reportedly visited Fortas (if the Maloney documents are to be believed). Did Fortas’s sexual history influence his votes? Can the same be said of the other justices, many of whom extolled the virtues of family, heterosexuality, marriage, and procreation in decisions about birth control, obscenity, and interracial marriage in this period? Did Fortas’s votes in these and other cases lead to the FBI’s visit and to the FBI’s implied threats?

If authentic, these documents may also influence our understanding of Johnson’s failed nomination of Fortas as Chief Justice, Fortas’s subsequent resignation, and the role that the FBI and the Senate played in both. The failed nomination and the resignation, in turn, are linked to the subsequent history of the Supreme Court, which ended up with William Burger as Chief Justice and Harry Blackmun as Associate Justice.

In any event, it is unfortunate that the public’s right to know about a relevant episode in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court is blocked at a moment when the president of the United States will be nominating a new Associate Justice, and possibly a new Chief Justice, and when the U.S. Senate will be advising the president on the nomination and deciding whether to consent.

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Arnold Shcherban - 7/30/2005


Yes, I can and I do admire and respect a person, whether communist, Nazi, or American right conservative for dying for her/his principles (however wrong they night be) and not betraying their comrades.
Are you telling us that this country would be much safer,
if Ethel did betray her comrades, making them suffer, as much as she did for just being a communist, perhaps, not even a spy? Or are you trying to revive a Big Lie of
20th century that ALL Communists were Soviet spies?

Bill Heuisler - 7/25/2005

Do you do everything through surrogates? Your second-hand Doctoral thesis must be a doozy, your classes probably don't recognise you at all and your wife must be a saint.

Reeves is wrong. Ask him to explain people like William Remington, for example. He has not. He cannot. You might even look up Remington yourself. Maybe you'll have an original thought about him and about McCarthy. Maybe.

If we ever have another discussion, I'd like very much to read your thoughts on the article, rather than your opinions of my shortcomings and your parroting of other peoples' thoughts.
Bill Heuisler

Ralph E. Luker - 7/25/2005

No, Bill, it's not about me. That's why your shoot-from-the-hip accusations that people who disagree with you are com-symps is so unnecessary but expected from your way of arguing. HNN has better experts on how many communists your buddy Joe uncovered than I am. Try reading Thomas Reeves's book on McCarthy. You'd like Reeves's work in many ways -- except that he'd tell you that Big Joe found NO communists.

Bill Heuisler - 7/24/2005

Great response. Com-symp? Nobody cares. It's not about you. This discussion is about Abe Fortas, his financial missteps and his Left Wing friends you pooh poohed.

You wrote twice that McCarthy uncovered no Communists. But now six questions are unanswered and a long list of Communists McCarthy actually uncovered are ignored.

You think it's about you. Amazing.
Bill Heuisler

John H. Lederer - 7/24/2005

That after the passage of 50 years the McCarthy era arouses such political passions (and why is it the "McCarthy Era" rather than say "the Red Era")

I suspect that the reason is a little deeper than a simple concern that someone was executed/convicted/humiliated who should not have been, or that someone was not who should have been.

Isn't the key that the era goes to the very legitimacy of the modern left wing and to a lesser degree the modern right wing?

Ralph E. Luker - 7/24/2005

Bill, Your pathetic attempt to portray me, also, as a com-symp doesn't wash, as you know. Too Southern, too Republican, too Christian, too conservative, .... Next.

Bill Heuisler - 7/23/2005

We've had this discussion. Ethel could have been released if she'd told about crimes she'd witnessed and furthered. Eisenhower wanted to commute her sentence, cleared a line to Sing Sing on the night of the execution, but the list of fellow Communist spies was far more important to Ethel Rosenberg than her life. Do you admire that? Sympathize?

Are you defending the notion that knowledge of a felony, before, during and after its commission is blameless? Do you believe a murderer's wife who knew of the crime before it occurred has no moral and legal obligation to either try to prevent the crime or to notify authorities?
Do you admire Ethel because her loyalty to the Communist Party was greater than her loyalty to her country? The Remington and the notes were a small part of the evidence chain, but her participation in a capital crime makes her guilty. Ethel knowingly chose her fate.

In a crude admission of ignorance you wrote, "McCarthy never actually found any of them." What about Gustavo Duran, John Carter Vincent, William Remington, Annie Lee Moss, Mary Jane Keenan, Edward Posniak and many others, plus his insistance on the investigation of Harry White. Maurice Halperin, Laurence Duggan, Theodore Hall and the dentist, Peress? Are these people beneath your notice?

In your pitiable rush to be a politically correct anti-anti-Communist over the years on HNN you've exhibited an incomprehensible urge to defend Communism - the worst evil of the Twentieth Century - to parse the meanings and motives of communists and Marxists, and to attack those who recognize the enemy. You feel sorry for Ethel, but probably dislike McCarthy and Nixon who both served their country. Try to explain that piece of perverted logic.

Name a person I IDed as a Marxist/Communist who wasn't. If you can't, find another mantra.
Bill Heuisler

Ralph E. Luker - 7/23/2005

Bill, You obviously don't know the American legal system very well. If, as I claim, Ethel Rosenberg was not proved to be guilty in her trial, she should have been found "not guilty," which I've already pointed out, is not the same as "innocent" and your citation of evidence subsequently unearthed about her guilt or innocense has no bearing whatsoever on whether she was proved "guilty" in the trial. Your pretense to the contrary only demonstrates, once again, that you have no interest in thinking historically, but only polemically, about these things. Beyond that, if you -- like -- read what I actually said, rather than stuffing the strawman you are prepared to attack, you'll find that I make no claim to knowing you. I know one thing about you: every time you post at HNN you find another red under the bed. Good for you. McCarthy never actually found any of them. Like you, he just cried red every time he opened his mouth.

John H. Lederer - 7/22/2005

If Hoover was homosexual, he dated.

He, believe it or not, was regarded as very eligible bachelor in Washington in the 1920's-30's-- and was even said to be handsome.

My Aunt June, knock down gorgeous from the pictures, dated him a number of times to the great jealousy of her sisters.

Bill Heuisler - 7/21/2005

Mr. Charles and Mr. Luker,
You are both pathetic in your weaseling attempts to save Leftist face after Venona. One of you thinks Hiss is not guilty, the other thinks Ethel is not guilty.

As to Ethel, Venona mentions her often as go-between and courier, but the real evidence you obviously missed is in Khrushchev Remembers: The Glasnost Tapes, the third volume of Khrushchev's memoirs published in 1991.
"I heard from both Stalin and Molotov that the Rosenbergs provided very significant help in accelerating production of our atomic bomb." wrote Nikita.

And I notice you don't mention your silly statement about McCarthy, Ralph. Sneer and demand apologies if it makes you feel better, but you are really badly informed about many things.

As to Hiss, Mr. Charles, he was convicted of Perjury. He said he did not re-type certain secret documents that were passed to the Soviets. They found the typwriter and two witnesses. He did. He lied. Deal with it.

By the way, Mr. Luker your sly little comments about knowing Bill a long time are inane on two fronts. First, you don't know me at all. We have nothing in common. You are not someone I would associate with in any case, since you enjoy name-calling when there are no consequences. Recall you called an elderly immigrant man called NY Guy a "stupid twit" among other things. He had the temerity to disagree and did not have full command of the English language. You were rude, cowardly and the real twit.

Second, the reason you dislike me on HNN is that I kick your ass every argument we have - just like this one.
Bill Heuisler

Douglas Charles - 7/21/2005

Since there is no proof that Hoover was gay---despite allegations made by Anthony Summers that Hoover wore drag and the mob WAS blackmailing him---it's doubtful that he would or could have been blackmailed.

Rumors of Hoover's homosexuality have been around for decades and if ANYONE made the allegation the person was paid a visit by a senior FBI officials. My favorite example is that of a Cleveland woman who made the offhand remark at her bridge-club meeting that Hoover was a homosexual ; she was paid a visit by what was surely an intimidating senior FBI official.

Douglas Charles - 7/21/2005

It is foolish to dismiss the possible use information about alleged sexual improprieties. Since 1937 J. Edgar Hoover's FBI systematically gathered intelligence on gays and lesbians, and dating from 20 June 1951 Hoover started a "Sex Deviate" program to supply executive, legislative, and judicial officials with information about the activities of gay government employees. In time, the program extended beyond government branches to include universities and law enforcement agencies.

Hoover--who never wore drag and rumors of his own homosexuality remain unproved--was also not unwilling to use information alleging homosexuality for political purposes. FBI officials, for example, collected information in the 1950s purporting that Adlai Stevenson was gay, and Hoover then leaked this derogatory information to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (Stevenson was their UN ambassador). Hoover may also have leaked information to Republican political operate Milt Hill in the summer of 1952.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/21/2005

Professor Charles is, of course, correct and those of us who have been around HNN's comment boards have known that about Bill for a long time. For his information, I did not "defend the innocense" of Ethel Rosenberg. The case against her is not conclusive and she should, therefore, have been found not guilty, which is not the same as being innocent. Her brother appears to have lied about her in order to save himself from a death sentence.

Douglas Charles - 7/21/2005

It's pointless, Ralph, to argue with someone who is too ideologically fixed on one particular view of history. Such people ignore all other evidence and, instead, accept an incomplete, sketchy, and inconclusive source like Venona---the most misused source in American history---that seems to support their preconceived notions.

In other words, such people are not acting as historians trying to ascertain truth from the available evidence, but trying to use the available evidence to support their particular version of the truth.

Bill Heuisler - 7/21/2005

You certainly have a way with an insult. You also have a terrible memory. In a summer (June or July) discussion in 2003 about Ann Coulter's book, "Treason" you defended Ethel Rosenberg's innocence despite Venona descriptions of her role as a messenger to Sobel, Greenglass and others. In that same discussion, or one close to it, you made the ridiculous claim that Senator Joe McCarthy had never exposed a real Communist in spite of Venona papers that confirm dozens.

There are plenty more instances where you have sneered at red baiting and anti-Communists, but I don't have the time or expertise to search HNN archives. If you insist, I'll find the posts and copy them for you, but you know you've been caught again, don't you?

You're making a fool of yourself again.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/20/2005

Just to remind you of what occasioned the need for an apology, you falsely accused me of being in denial in re the Venona documents. When I showed you the evidence by way of a review of the major book by that title, you changed the subject. What is it, Bill? Are you too lazy to check the evidence or are you a liar?

Bill Heuisler - 7/20/2005

Don't be naive. We're talking about Senate hearings for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Hearings were some of the best theater in the sixties and the Senators were all Falstaffs looking for dignity. We're also talking about the early sixties: J. Edgar was considered to be next to God by a public raised on G-Men and Dillinger stories.

Tainted? Presidential appointments have been tainted with stupid things like golf club memberships and college papers written decades before. Recall how some of W's Appellate nominations have been called upon to explain affiliations and clients? Let's not pretend reality has anything to do with politics in Washington.
Fortas was toast without the sex stuff, end of story.
Are you back? Welcome home.

Bill Heuisler - 7/20/2005

Fourth paragraph first sentence, please add to Hoover:
was far more powerful...

Bill Heuisler - 7/20/2005

Mr. Charles,
Irrational amateurs can be so annoying. Particularly when you completely miss their point. Is it the rarified air?

Now pay attention. What mattered in the confirmation hearings in 1964 has little to do with present reality. My counter-thesis is that Fortas's FBI file would have weighed far more heavily in a Southern Democrat Senators' minds (considering his constituents) than some third-hand sexual gossip. Whether the file was accurate does not matter. Lattimore was widely perceived as Communist - even in the Johns Hopkins faculty. He left the country.
Public perception of Communists was different in the Sixties - far more heat and less light than now.

Fortas had taken illegal money as a justice. This also came out in Senate hearings. The combination of the two stories would've made 51 votes impossible. The sex story would've been moot. He resigned, so we'll never get our hands on any of those "primary source documents" you hold in such esteem. Next time, pay attention to the Primary Source Article before hurting a poor amateur's feelings.
Bill Heuisler

Bill Heuisler - 7/20/2005

Is your memory failing? The article's premise is that Hoover et al blackmailed Fortas into resigning etc. by threatening him with his alleged sex life. My response was that there was far more of an explosive nature to throw into the Senate confirmation hearings. That's it.

You accused my purpose of ferreting out everyone who was soft on communism blah, blah, and missing the point. In other words, your response to my alternate proposal was to accuse me of excessive anti-Communism. Have you forgotten? Tsk, tsk. No, no, don't apologize. It's okay.

But, "could such a response come from the mouth of anyone with a vital sense of history?" Ralph, don't you see, what's to be treasured is an attitude toward evidence.

Remember, in 1964 Hoover and the Senate would have been far more alarmed (and their votes changed for appearance sake) if news of Fortas and Lattimore hit the news than if somebody had whispered sexual innuendo. Lattimore was forced out of Hopkins and left the country around that time, if I'm not mistaken. That was my alternate theory and your anti-anti-Communism kicked in like it often does.

Apology? From a ferret? Take yourself a little less seriously before you get stomach ulcers.

Nathaniel Brian Bates - 7/20/2005

What about Hoover's little...explorations? Couldn't one fight fire with fire?

However, any allegations of sex with teenagers of either gender ought to be taken seriously. Hoover seemed to stick with an older, uglier set. Yet, there was little if any question of younger men (or probable interest on the part of the latter).

It is an interesting question. I err on the side of skepticism about State Power, particularly when it binds on Supreme Court Justices, while the FBI is an Executive Branch department. I tend to think that such things could be made up. Hoover had the heart of a dictator, and the terrible wardrobe to match. I would not trust him not to make up facts.

Personally, I think that society is better off without obscenity. I don't believe that the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment meant for smut to be "incorporated". Incorporation is about the right to political, religious, and philosophical speech. The Communist Manifesto is protected. Internet porn is simply junk for the mind, and in my mind denigrating to women. It is subject to State limitations in my view.

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/20/2005

One need look no further than the FBI's treatment of king and the Civil Rights movement to know that what the FBI says and what was were often disparately different things. I also am perplexed by this reasoning that if someone has a friend (and let's not pretend that we are privy to the levels of these friendships) who is a communist, they are somehow tainted even if they are not themselves a communist.


Ralph E. Luker - 7/20/2005

What Professor Charles said.

Douglas Charles - 7/20/2005

"Mr. Charles, Okay, you don't like the FBI."

This is the kind of irrationality that often plagues some amateur historians. All I offered was what all historians are supposed to learn on the first day of college: to read primary source documents critically. My example from the Barnes FBI files illustrates that one cannot take at face value a claim that someone is a communist (or fascist) simply because it says so in an FBI file. To chalk that up to not liking or, indeed, liking a specific organization reveals uncompromising bias.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/20/2005

That link should read: http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/5012.html .

Ralph E. Luker - 7/20/2005

Bill, You run your mouth over here on HNN's mainpage without bothering to do a simple Google search that would prove your rhetorical schtick to be wrong. On my attitude in re the Venona documents, see, for instance, my review of In Denial. I'll have your apology, thank you.

Bill Heuisler - 7/19/2005

Mr. Charles,
Okay, you don't like the FBI. Let's say they're wrong. Let's say you're right about Lattimore. Maybe he wasn't a Communist, even though he declared, "We can do business with Stalin" after his trip to the gulag. Even though he stuck up for Mao after supposedly working with Chiang and even though, years later, he said Cuba and Vietnam were independent of the USSR and Communists are not in fact Communists, but striving for democratic principles.

Schlesinger said, "sounds to me like fellow-traveling" when Lattimore defended Stalin by saying those purge trials, "Sound like democracy".

Irving Kristol said Lattimore’s claims about Soviet and Chinese Communist benevolence were, "ingratiating pseudo-Marxist platitudes."

Not a Communist. Lattimore was probably just confused.
Hey, nobody's perfect, but why would Abe Fortas elect to defend a man whose patron at the White House during the War was Lachlin Currie, advisor to FDR and a Soviet spy?

After all, the article above explores the possibility of FBI blackmail over sex, doesn't it? It seems to me (in 1964) there was a helluva lot more ammo for the FBI in Fortas's friends and clients. But let's just dismiss my curiosity as McCarthyism. Politically incorrect questions should not be asked in polite company, right?
Bill Heuisler

Douglas Charles - 7/19/2005

In Harry Elmer Barnes' FBI file he is variously referred to by FBI agents and FBI officials as a communist AND as a fascist. If it looks like a duck to FBI agents, then those FBI agents need stronger glasses.

Bill Heuisler - 7/19/2005

Mr. Charles,
If it looks like a duck and spends its adult life quacking like a duck and associating with other ducks, then the investigator who calls it a duck is probably more correct than someone who refuses to see any ducks, no matter the evidence.

My purpose? Place a historic perspective on some of the most seminal events in the US in the Twentieth Century. For some reason, I thought that was your interest also.
Fortas was a Supreme Court Justice nominated for Chief. His client was an aide to Henry Wallace, Vice President of the United States. Their affiliations and motivations are of interest to all historians. Except Ralph Luker?

Face it, Ralph, you've gnashed your teeth since the Venona Papers shattered your illusions. It's called denial. Imagine, if you will, that KGB papers were unearthed that exonerated the Rosenbergs and exposed Alger as a Yank 007 who fought for truth, justice and the American Way. The gloating, rehashing and pointed fingers from the Left would be endless and insufferable, right?

However, the opposite occurred. Venona gave historians background and motive for politicians and events that shaped our lives - Lend Lease, Yalta, the bomb - and for the spies who betrayed our country to the Soviets.

Passe? I'm very interested. I'm surprised you're not.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/19/2005

Bill, It really does depend on what the purpose is, doesn't it? Your purpose seems to be to ferret out every person who was ever soft on Communism or was related to or defended anyone who was ever soft on Communism. Pursue that purpose if you will. It isn't mine. I don't think that your purpose makes for reasonable discussion or good history. Another person at another time will want to ferret out every person who was ever soft on some other ism or was related to or defended anyone who was ever soft on that ism. I don't think that their purpose makes for reasonable discussion or good history, either. Your purpose seems only polemical, rather being in the pursuit of what is true, important, good, or reasonable.

Douglas Charles - 7/19/2005

Just because an FBI file identifies someone as a communist doesn't make it so. More often than not, it merely reflects the bias of the author of the report.

Bill Heuisler - 7/18/2005

Thanks for the valuable contribution to the Abe Fortas controversy. HNN can always count on you for depth and wisdom. Also, Ralph, it heartens me to know we share an abhorrance for any man who would embrace Communism and further its murderous ends.

Owen Lattimore visited Kolyma at the invitation of Uncle Joe during WWII as an aide to Henry Wallace and compared the Soviet slave labor camp to the TVA and its Commandant Nikishov to an factor in the Hudson's Bay Company. He urged the Executive Director of the Institute for Pacific Relations, "For the USSR, back their international policy in general, but without using their slogans, and above all without giving them or anybody else the impression of subservience." An odd thing to worry about, eh, Ralph?

And I'm proud to join you in disgust over a future Supreme Court Justice defending a man (Lattimore) whose FBI file describes him as a Communist, "who should be detained in the event of a national emergency."

BTW, my innards are functioning perfectly, thanks again for your concern. We should rejoice in our warm and fuzzy comity and sense of joint purpose.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/18/2005

No, Bill. There's a "Red" hiding under every chair.

Bill Heuisler - 7/18/2005

Mr. Charles,
Thank you for the source. Fortas research and fact-checking has become fascinating. I've turned up some unusual items, not apropos to the article, but very interesting nonetheless. Did you know Fortas was a member of the National Lawyers Guild and that he defended his friend, Owen Lattimore?

Was there a "red" chair on the Court? I'm beginning to reassess my opinion of LBJ - and I was sure it couldn't get any lower.
Bill Heuisler

Douglas Charles - 7/17/2005

You don't need to rely on the FBI to gain access to Forta's O&C file. Thanks to the work of Athan Theoharis and others, Marquette University has a large collection of FBI files in its library. They also now have a useful online finding aid and the Fortas O&C folder 71 is listed.


Bill Heuisler - 7/17/2005

Mr. Stein,
Fortas certainly had other, more significant, problems that would have made any sexual questions moot. He was a long-time crony of LBJ, Fred Black and Bobby Baker. As such, his reputation had been questioned many times and only his friendship with LBJ protected him. When lame-duck LBJ asked him to become Chief Justice, Fortas was reluctant, but - unwisely it turned out - assented in spite of problems in his personal financial life.

In 1966, Supreme Court associate justice Fortas began to receive illegal money from a former client, convicted felon and Sequoia Pacific financier, Louis Wolfson. The amount was $20,000 a year - to be paid every year for the rest of Fortas's life.

Caught out because of contradictory testimony at a Senate hearing, Fortas cut a deal with the FBI. He taped phone calls in which Wolfson restated the bribery offer and pleaded with Justice Fortas to keep quiet. Transcripts of the calls are in the "Fortas Papers" at Yale University. During the FBI investigation Justice Fortas withdrew his name from Chief Justice consideration and advised LBJ he would resign from the Supreme Court.

Not much needs to be added. I'm amazed that a man with such flexible standards ever became a member of the Supreme Court. His sexual preferences don't interest me and may not have interested the press at the time.
Bill Heuisler