Former President Bill Clinton yesterday submitted his resignation from the Supreme Court Bar hours before the deadline to disbar him, thus writing the final chapter to his official humiliation for lying under oath in the scandal that led the House to impeach him.
Court officials had no comment, but resignations under pressure historically are accepted, although not always unanimously.
Justices William H. Rehnquist and William O. Douglas abstained when Richard M. Nixon’s resignation was accepted June 23, 1975, a year before New York disbarred him.
Mr. Clinton’s criminal lawyer, David E. Kendall, was taking nothing for granted and cited 11 high court cases as far back as 1961 as precedent for the justices to accept the proffered resignation and drop their threat of involuntary disbarment.
Yesterday’s letter said Mr. Clinton’s agreement on his last full day in the Oval Office to pay a $25,000 fine and accept a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license was an attempt to help everyone, as well as do the right thing.
It said he agreed “in order to avoid the burden of litigation for all parties, to achieve an expeditious and definitive resolution, and in acknowledgement that his actions merited censure.”
“At all times he cooperated fully with the [Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct] and furnished all requested information in a timely manner,” Mr. Kendall said in yesterday’s letter to U.S. Supreme Court Clerk William K. Suter.
A contempt of court order by Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright and a complaint from the Southeastern Legal Foundation led to the Arkansas discipline. The president was found guilty of lying about his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in testimony for Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against him.
Southeastern Legal Foundation President Phil Kent said yesterday the end of the disciplinary case vindicates the complaint.
“When you can’t practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court, that makes rehabilitation in any jurisdiction a practical impossibility,” Mr. Kent said. “More importantly, the system of accountability in our judiciary branch has been upheld.”
By quitting rather than fighting, Mr. Clinton abandoned a vow to resist being stripped of the honor accorded in 1977, when Mr. Clinton was attorney general of Arkansas.
Mr. Kendall’s hand-delivered letter to the Supreme Court argued that neither Mr. Clinton’s offenses nor the Arkansas Supreme Court punishment justified disbarment.
The civil case accusing Mr. Clinton of taking unwanted sexual liberties with Mrs. Jones while she was a state clerk and he was governor ended with an $850,000 settlement for Mrs. Jones. Her federal lawsuit was delayed, however, until the unanimous 1997 Supreme Court ruling in Jones v. Clinton that he had no right to delay the case until after he left office.
“The Supreme Court decided 9-0 that the Jones versus Clinton case had to go forward, and when it went forward, he cheated; in essence, thumbing his nose at the highest court in the land,” said Fairfax lawyer Gilbert K. Davis, who won that decision for Mrs. Jones.
The Oct. 1 suspension of Mr. Clinton’s privilege to practice law before the high court began the mechanism toward virtually automatic disbarment. That 40-day process, in which Mr. Clinton was ordered to “show cause,” would have ended today.
The suspension order was issued after the high court formally learned of the Jan. 19 Arkansas disciplinary action as part of a plea bargain that averted criminal charges by independent counsel Robert W. Ray.
Under terms of the “consent agreement” negotiated with Marie-Bernarde Miller, attorney for the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct, Mr. Clinton avoided being barred for life. If he pays dues to the Arkansas Bar and pursues continuing-education courses to keep up on the law, approval to resume practice would be automatic in 2006.
Readmission before the U.S. Supreme Court requires him to practice in good standing for at least three more years after any eventual reinstatement in Arkansas.
Few members of the Supreme Court Bar ever actually argue there, although many are active in filing the 2,000 or so paid appeals lodged each year.