Edith Jones and Theodore Olson: As Washington Convulses over Senate Approval of Judicial Nominations, We Talk Law and Judges with Two of America's Top Legal Figures: Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, and Federal Judge Edith Jones
Ted Olson is one Of America's pre-eminent lawyers, having argued more than 40 cases before the Supreme Court. As U.S. solicitor general from 2001 to 2004, he represented the nation in arguments deciding affirmative action policies, U.S. campaign finance laws, the legal treatment of terrorists, and other hot-button topics. Before that, Olson successfully represented George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore, the climactic Supreme Court decision on Election 2000. On September 11, 2001, Olson's life was touched by tragedy: his wife Barbara, an attorney and bestselling author, perished in the plane crashed against the Pentagon by terrorists. In 2004, Olson government service for private practice.
Edith Jones (whose remarks begin on page 16) was appointed by President Reagan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and has since earned consideration as a possible appointee to the Supreme Court. Judge Jones was a bankruptcy lawyer and an authority on business law, but has perhaps received more attention for her bold opinions on social issues and criminal law. Size argues that morality and legal restraint are essential to a well-functioning court system. Edith Jones and Theodore Olson were interviewed by TAE contributor and attorney Susanna Dokupil--Olson in Washington, D.C., and Jones in Houston, Texas.
TAE: Tell us about how you grew up.
OLSON: My family moved to California--the Bay area--when I was seven or eight years old. My father was with United Airlines. I went to public schools in California and eventually law school in Berkeley.
TAE: How did you choose Berkeley?
OLSON: I was the oldest of five kids and my family was not in a position to spend a lot of money to send me to law school. Berkeley was very inexpensive. And it was a good school, close to home. That was a great time to be a Republican in Berkeley, amidst Barry Goldwater's campaign! Those were years upheaval and revolt, and Berkeley was a very radical place. I think there were fewer than ten of us in the Republican group at the law school.
TAE: Was your family politically active?
OLSON: No. My mother was primarily a housewife until my brother and sisters were grown up. Then she went to college; she was never active in politics. My father was an engineer and he wasn't involved in politics either. But they were both what you would call conservatives today. My father's family owned a little general store in northern Wisconsin and my mother grew up on a dairy farm there, and they were hard-working salt-of-the-earth people.
TAE: What brought you to Washington?
OLSON: After I graduated I practiced law in Los Angeles for 16 years in a firm where I got to know William French Smith, who was part of Ronald Reagan's "kitchen cabinet." He helped talk Reagan into running for office after hearing his speeches in support of Barry Goldwater. I wound up representing Ronald Reagan in his personal life" and political work. When William French Smith was appointed as Reagan's attorney general he brought me into the Justice Department.
TAE: Do you have some favorite memories of Ronald Reagan?
OLSON: Lots. You could not work with him without developing great affection and admiration for the man. He was probably the most easy-to-get-along-with client I've ever had. He was very gracious in his dealings with people. He had a way of making people feel at ease. After he left office I became his private lawyer.
TAE: How would you compare Reagan with George W. Bush, whom you've had the chance to work closely with over the last few years?
OLSON: They both have broad ideas about the role of the President in solving great issues. Both avoided getting too deeply involved in specificity. President Clinton was a very detail-oriented person who would start talking about an issue, and it would go on and on and on, because he knew so much. President Bush and Ronald Reagan focused on the basics of the message. …