Re-Staffing Justice

March 20, 1994

With more than normal urgency, the Senate Judiciary Committee has unanimously approved the nomination of Jamie Gorelick to be deputy attorney general. This is the No. 2 job at Justice, and has been unoccupied for over a month, since Philip Heymann resigned. For several months before he resigned, Mr. Heymann and Attorney General Janet Reno had been suffering from what they termed "bad chemistry." As a result, a lot of the in-house heavy lifting had been handled by the No. 3 man, even before Mr. Heymann left. No. 3 was Webster Hubbell, who has also resigned.

William Bryson, a career attorney at Justice, has been named to fill in for Mr. Hubbell until a permanent (so to speak) successor can be nominated by the president. The respected Mr. Bryson won an "excellence in management" award last year. Ms. Reno needs a manager -- that much is clear. That she turns to a Washington careerist should comfort those critics who objected to the Arkansan cast of characters in high places in Washington.

Jamie Gorelick is also a Washington insider. She was a partner in a private law firm in the capital for 13 years before assuming her first job in this administration, counsel to the Department of Defense. The Wall Street Journal, which led the attack on Webster Hubbell (and on Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster before that) has already denounced Ms. Gorelick's nomination, in part on the grounds that she has been president of the D.C. Bar Association.

We hope the Gorelick-Bryson team will quickly get to work repairing the damage done by a year of less than inspiring decision-making at or for the Department of Justice. Very high on the priority list should be filling vacancies. There are still too many empty desks or "acting" assistants and deputies and so forth. Ms. Reno and President Clinton should quickly decide to nominate Mr. Bryson, or replace him with a new nominee.

There are also too many empty judges' chambers. These vacancies, which traditionally have been filled on the basis of political as well as professional qualifications, won't be filled soon enough unless real pressure is brought to bear on the administration. Several senators on the Judiciary Committee expressed disapproval with the pace of nominations for the Justice Department and the federal bench at Ms. Gorelick's confirmation hearing. This was not just partisan sniping, either. Chairman Joe Biden led the critics. He and others ought to keep it up, till the president understands the harm his lackadaisical pace is doing -- to the workloads and morale of bureaucrats and judges.

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