Putting together a team at Justice

May 06, 1993

The Justice Department is at last getting its second- and third-level slots filled. We especially like the decision to pick two old Washington hands for some of the top jobs, since Janet Reno has no Washington experience.

Philip Heymann is the pick to be deputy attorney general, the No. 2 official in the department. He is a professor at Harvard Law School and served at assistant attorney general in the Carter administration, heading the criminal division after Benjamin R. Civiletti. He is well respected in academic, legal, government and law enforcement circles.

One from Harvard, one from Yale. Drew Days III of Yale Law School is the choice for solicitor general. He headed the civil rights division during the Carter administration, at a time when the balancing act between liberal and conservative Democrats was a challenge. His new job is to represent the federal government before the Supreme Court. Because he decides which cases and which arguments the government will ask the court to consider, thus greatly affecting the court's agenda, the solicitor general has been called "the tenth justice."

The third nominee, is a little different. Webster Hubbell, the choice for associate attorney general, is a former law partner of Hillary Clinton and golf partner of the president. Many presidents have had close ties to top appointees at the department, sometimes with ill results, sometimes with good results. Mr. Hubbell deserves the benefit of the doubt. But his history with the Clintons and his recent role as the White House's man at a leaderless Justice Department require more than routine attention by those charged with oversight of the department. It is disquieting to hear speculation in Washington that during the Waco showdown the White House dealt with Mr. Hubbell, not Ms. Reno.

A rumored appointment concerns us more than the Hubbell nomination. That is of Richard Stearns, a Massachusetts state judge and long-time "friend of Bill" from Oxford and anti-war protest days. He is said to be a likely replacement for FBI Director William Sessions.

Mr. Sessions probably ought to be replaced. Some questionable practices in office in previous years never seemed to us to as serious as his critics maintained, but his handling of the Waco situation was, to say the least, uninspiring. He should not be succeeded by a presidential crony. The purpose of the law giving FBI directors 10-year terms was to keep that agency as far removed from politics as possible. Mr. Sessions and his predecessor, William Webster, have been free of political taint, in large part because they were not personally close to the presidents who chose them. That is a tradition well worth continuing.

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