The Clinton Legacy

By Colin Campbell; Bert A. Rockman | Go to book overview

5
Judicial Legacies: The Clinton Presidency and the Courts

DAVID M. O'BRIEN

The judicial legacies of President William Jefferson ("Bill") Clinton are both ironic and paradoxical. Ironically, Clinton, a graduate of Yale Law School and a former professor of constitutional law, failed to give judicial appointments very high priority. By contrast, Ronald Reagan, a former actor and nonlawyer, left a continuing legacy in the federal courts. The Reagan administration, together with that of its successor, George Bush, had a major impact because federal judgeships were viewed as instruments of presidential power. 1 Hence, one of the most rigorous judicial selection processes ever was put into place, in order, as Attorney General Edwin Meese III observed, "to institutionalize the Reagan revolution so it can't be set aside no matter what happens in future presidential elections."2 In comparison, and despite twelve years of Republican judicial appointments, Clinton deemed the judiciary's institutional integrity and achievement of diversity on the bench more important than ideology or his administration's social policy goals.

During both of his terms in the Oval Office, Clinton repeatedly stressed that he aimed "to select individuals with outstanding capabilities and a broad array of professional experience and individuals who reflect the incredible diversity of our nation. 3 Whereas Reagan viewed federal judgeships as instruments of and opportunities to wield presidential power, Clinton often avoided or abandoned

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