KC Johnson

LBJ & Dirksen: Fortas

President Johnson and Everett Dirksen, 25 June 1968, 4.53pm, ref. no. 13140

Of course, they’ll say I’m a crony. But am I supposed to nominate somebody the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says is a great man that I don’t know?


President Johnson: I’ll tell you what I think we’ll do. I think I will accept [Earl] Warren’s resignation, upon the qualification of his successor.

Everett Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: I will name Fortas to succeed him, if the American Bar clears him, and they think it’ll be exceptional, and they’ll be pleased. We’ve got to talk to them. I’m going to name Thornberry, then, to be associate justice.

Dirksen: You’re going to name Homer?

President Johnson: Yeah. I’ve got two problems here with the others. I’ve got [Joe] Fowler has got all of his travel, his tourist stuff pending, but the main thing—he’s got his tax bill, he’s got his International conference thing, that he’s been working on. I can’t get a . . . I don’t want a new secretary—

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: —with all the tax reform that’s coming up—

Dirksen: Of course not.

President Johnson: Under the law, I’ve got to prepare the tax reform.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] And I’ve got to get into oil and depletion, and all these other things, and I just can’t bring a new man like [former CEA chairman] Walter Heller or somebody into that job on four months. They will say “cronyism.” But Fowler is a bigger crony, and I’ve known him much longer than I have Thornberry. I’ve known Fowler since Roosevelt’s day. He sits with me every week, four or five times a week; I haven’t seen Thornberry in eight years.

Thornberry practiced 18 years, tried cases every day. And the Bar says they want somebody that has judicial experience. He acted a prosecutor, elected by the people, for many years. Then he belonged to the best law firm in the state for many years. Then he came to Congress, six terms, had no opponent. And I think he is friendly with nearly every member of the Senate. Dick Russell told Eddie Weisl this morning (who’s Cy Vance’s partner) that in his judgment, Thornberry had more friends in the Senate than anybody else.

He has served as a federal district judge—not by my appointment, by Kennedy’s appointment. I haven’t seen him—I’ve never been in a courtroom with him. I haven’t spent two hours with him since he was appointed.

Then he served on the circuit court; there wasn’t a single opponent against him when his name come up; he’s now on the circuit court. Justice Brennan told the Chief Justice, according to the Chief Justice, that when he went to the Law Institute, the university they operate for judges in New York, that Thornberry was one of the instructors, and that he was shocked to find that he was the ablest instructor in the school.

Now, the Bar says they want lawyers with judicial experience. They’ve got one with federal law court experience, they got one with circuit court experience, and damned if I believe the Congress is just going to say because a man served in Congress, he’s no good.

And they got not one thing against him. They’ve confirmed him for the federal district court, and for the circuit court—

Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: —without any question. Now, if—I don’t know what they can find with him. His character’s all right.

Dirksen: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

President Johnson: They like him. And, of course, they’ll say I’m a crony. But am I supposed to nominate somebody the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says is a great man that I don’t know?

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: Am I supposed to nominate somebody for Tom Clark or Warren’s place, those two have gone, and go out and name somebody from New England that I don’t know?

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: I think I’m in a hell of a lot better shape nominating somebody like you or Homer than I would be, by God, with somebody I didn’t know.

Dirksen: Oh, it’s easily defended.

President Johnson: It sure is.

Dirksen: OK.

President Johnson: And if you—will you go with me on Fortas and on Thornberry?

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: OK. We’re gone. Good-bye.

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