Significance: Federal judge whose nomination by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the Supreme Court raised allegations concerning presidential “cronyism.”
Thornberry was a Texas politician whom President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1965. Three years later, upon receiving word that Chief Justice Earl Warren intended to retire, Johnson planned to elevate Justice Abe Fortas to the position of chief justice and nominate Thornberry for Fortas's vacant position on the court. Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford argued that the Thornberry nomination would fail because the Texas judge was perceived as being too close to Johnson. Warning the president that the Thornberry nomination would impede Fortas's confirmation, Clifford urged Johnson to nominate a Republican instead of Thornberry. However, Johnson ignored Clifford's advice, and on June 26, 1968, he announced the Thornberry nomination. Johnson's political instincts proved wrong in this instance. In addition to making allegations of cronyism, some senators believed that Thornberry did not possess the qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice. Nonetheless, officials in the Johnson administration worked to secure support for the nominee. However, when the Fortas nomination met with significant opposition from the Senate, Thornberry asked Johnson to withdraw his nomination, which the president did in October, 1968. Thornberry continued to serve on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, becoming a senior judge in 1979.