Clinton's Legal Policy and the Courts: Rising from Disarray or Turning Around and Around?
DAVID M. O'BRIEN
Presidential leadership requires, at a minimum, communicating a clear and convincing political vision. It depends no less on strong and loyal staffing to carry out that vision. In his first two years, Democratic President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton largely failed on both scores. He vacillated on important issues of public policy and moved too slowly in filling key positions within his administration. At other times, he pursued policies running contrary to campaign promises and expectations. As a result, Clinton and the Democratic Party paid a very high price in the midterm 1994 election. With the Republican takeover of both the Senate and the House of Representatives for the first time in over forty years, along with sweeping victories in races for governorships across the country, Clinton became destined to confront major uphill battles with Congress over legislation, judicial appointments, and much else.
Nowhere was Clinton's vacillating vision and failure to fill crucial positions to carry out policies more evident than in his dealing with the Department of Justice (DOJ). That was truly remarkable after twelve years of Republican rule. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush had considerable success in changing the direction of law and legal policy on a range of "social-civil rights" issues, including abortion, affirmative action, and governmental accommodation of religion. 1 Expectations for change in justice poli-