The Law: Activist Fortas

When newly sworn Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas wrote his first dissent at the end of 1965, the issue involved a minor dispute over a Small Business Administration contract. With characteristic energy, Fortas prepared a meticulously reasoned draft. When it was circulated among his colleagues, two members of the five-man majority found it so persuasive that their view shifted. Fortas' dissent became the majority opinion.

It was a fitting beginning. In the three years that Fortas has been on the court, his incisive reasoning has propelled him past some of the more senior...