Clement embraces White House view

Times Staff Writer

washington -- Two summers ago, Paul D. Clement stood before a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., defending the Bush administration’s much-maligned policy of indefinitely holding “enemy combatants” in this country as part of the government’s war on terrorism.

The case involved American-born Jose Padilla. Clement, just one month into his new job as U.S. solicitor general, argued that people like Padilla were trying to bring jihad home to this country -- even if they were U.S. citizens and did not wear enemy uniforms.

Judge J. Michael Luttig stopped him. “Those accusations don’t get you very far,” the judge said, “unless you’re prepared to boldly say the United States is a battlefield in the war on terror.”

Clement did not miss a beat. “I can say that,” he said, “and I can say it boldly.”


Named Monday as the acting U.S. attorney general to temporarily succeed Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, Clement is likely to closely follow the principles of his predecessors -- Gonzales and former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft. Like them, he has embraced the White House’s mandate of waging war on terrorists in this country, even if it means diverging from longtime legal precepts of due process. He strongly believes in supporting case statutes and administration policy, whatever the consequences.

“Your job is to marshal the best argument for the defense of the statute or the policy that gets the job done,” he said in an interview with Legal Times in 2004. “That’s the way I approach all the cases.”

His supporters, including Washington lawyer Carter G. Phillips, see Clement as bright and hard-working, a steady hand to settle the uneasiness of Gonzales’ tenure, marked by the furor over the abrupt firing of a number of prosecutors. “Institutionally, there’s no awkwardness” with Clement, Phillips said.

But detractors see Clement, a longtime Republican who donated to Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign and has given to the Republican National Committee, as just another hard-right conservative unwilling to consider the other side.

“Paul Clement’s views are in lock step with this administration,” said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, an association of liberal advocacy groups. “He has been a vigorous advocate for this administration’s expansive view of executive power, turning back the clock on civil and women’s rights, as well as denying due process protections to detainees.”

Clement, 41, was born in Cedarburg, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb. His father was an accountant.

His first verbal battles were on the high school debate team. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international affairs at Georgetown University, a master’s degree in economics from Cambridge University, and a law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was the editor for the Supreme Court section of the law review.

He is married and has three sons.

He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and federal appellate Judge Laurence H. Silberman, both Reagan appointees. After working in private practice and teaching law at Georgetown, Clement joined the Justice Department in 2001 in its solicitor general’s office. He applied for a federal appellate judgeship in 2003 but was passed over.

He has argued for Bush policies on several key enemy-combatant cases such as Padilla’s -- all touchstones on the administration’s domestic war against terrorism. He also handled appellate arguments before the trial last year of Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison as a Sept. 11 collaborator.

Clement’s adversary in that case was Frank W. Dunham Jr., one of Moussaoui’s lead attorneys, who died last year. “I felt he did an excellent job,” Dunham once wryly noted. “He can make the unreasonable sound reasonable.”



Paul D. Clement

Age: 41

Family: Married, with three sons.

Hometown: Cedarburg, Wis.

Education: B.A. Georgetown University, M.A. Cambridge University, Harvard Law School.

Career highlights: Clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; staff member for then-Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.); private law practice with King & Spalding in Washington; solicitor general of the United States since June 2005.


Source: Times research