A newly-released Clinton memo reveals how presidential appointments really work

Roundup
tags: Bill Clinton, presidential appointments



On Friday, Bill Clinton's presidential library released a new set of previously-restricted internal documents from his administration. One of those memos, from March of 1993, gives a fascinating glimpse into how Ruth Bader Ginsburg almost wasn't nominated for the Supreme Court.

The memo deals with a vacancy on the court that arose early in Clinton's first year, when Justice Byron "Whizzer" White announced his retirement. Soon afterward, Clinton had a meeting with advisers, and, as Jeffrey Toobin wrote in his book The Nine:

"Look," [Clinton] said, "the Court is totally fragmented and it's dominated by Republican appointees... It's not enough for someone to vote the right way," he said. "We've got to get someone who will move people, who will persuade the others to join them. It's what [Earl] Warren did. I want someone like that."


In that meeting, Clinton quickly decided that the person he wanted was... New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

But Supreme Court appointments are so important that the president needs to appear to consider several candidates, and get outside advice from others. So, in the newly-released memo, which was written three days after the meeting Toobin describes, Associate White House Counsel Ron Klain grapples with the challenge of making the administration seem to have an open mind.




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