SETH P. WAXMAN
Upon Presentation of the
Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Medal in Law
April 12, 2002
Mr. Rector, Members of the Board of Visitors, Mr. President, and Distinguished Guests:
It is my honor and privilege to present Seth Paul Waxman, 41st Solicitor General of the United States and the 2002 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Medal in Law.
Seth Waxman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1951. Seth praises his parents, the late Felix and Frieda Waxman, for instilling in him an independent mind, a passion for learning, and deeply felt sense of loyalty to our countryall of which are evident in his later career. Seth attended public school in Hartford, then went to Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1973. The following year, Seth lived and worked in a small village in Kenya as a Rockefeller Fellow. On returning to the United States, he entered Yale Law School, where he served as Managing Editor of the Yale Law Journal. After graduating from Yale in 1977, Seth clerked for a year with Gerhard Gesell of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
Waxman entered practice with Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin in Washington, D.C. In 1984 he became a partner, and in 1992 the managing partner, of that firm. In addition to building a private practice in civil and criminal litigation, Seth invested enormous energy in the public life of our profession. Under the auspices of the American Bar Association, he served as Co-Chair of the Symposium on Corporate Criminal Liability, Chair of the Task Force on Habeas Corpus, Liaison to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts Project on Cameras in the Courtroom, and Representative to the ABA Postconviction Death Penalty Representation Project. He was also very active in the representation of indigent clients and in his support of public interest organizations and causes.
In 1994, Waxman left private practice to enter the Department of Justice, where he served as Associate Deputy Attorney General, Acting Deputy Attorney General, and Principal Deputy Solicitor General, before his nomination as the 41st Solicitor General of the United States in 1997. He held that position through the end of the Clinton Administration in 2001, then reentered private practice with the Washington firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering.
Seth Waxman's opportunity to serve as Solicitor General was a product of the partisan antipathy and deadlock that he so effortlessly transcended. The person who discharged the duties of that office immediately before Seth Waxman was Walter Dellinger of Duke, a man of great ability, immense charm, and a decidedly high political profile, who served as Acting Solicitor General in 1996-1997. The implacable opposition of North Carolina's Republican Senators precluded Dellinger's confirmation. Their unreasoning intransigence persuaded President Clinton to do the right thing and nominate Seth Waxman. Senators of both parties applauded the nomination. Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke the sense of the Senate when he said that Waxman was "in the fullest sense of the term a merit appointment."
In the ensuing four years, General Waxman more than justified the nation's hopes. Into an atmosphere of partisan bitterness and dispute, he brought reason, calm, and a disarming wit. In a political culture of personal attack, he acted with civility, courtesy, and respect for all concerned. Against the impulse of political advantage, he interposed professional obligation. The admiration he earned came not solely from left or right, Republican or Democrat, but from all who value intelligence, commitment, dedication, and service. As one senior member of the current Administration put it, "As Solicitor General, Seth Waxman covered himself with glory." He was, in short, a statesman.
The mantle of statesmanship is all the more remarkable, given the nature of the job. The Solicitor General serves at least three distinct constituencies. As a lawyer, the SG has a client, and that client is the government of the United States. The government of the United States comprises many departments and agencies, each of which is naturally inclined to accord priority to its own agenda. It falls to the SG to say "no" to many client agencies who wish to press a certain position. General Waxman did that in an intelligent, neutral, and respectful way, leaving all appreciative for having been heard.
Second, the Solicitor General necessarily has some relationship with the President who appointed him and who can remove him from office. From time to time, Presidents have been known to have political agendas not precisely congruent with the national interest. It may even come to pass that Presidents expect their appointees to attend to their interests, whatever they may be. The challenge to the Solicitor General is to keep the confidence of the leader of the Executive Branch, while at the same time maintaining his professional independence. This General Waxman did with integrity, discretion, and skill.
Third, the Solicitor General is also in some sense a servant of the Supreme Court. The SG represents the government of the United States, but the Justices expect him to show fidelity to the Court as well as to his client. They often rely on the SG's representations on matters that, in any other context, would be put to proof at trial. General Waxman's reputation for prudence, care, and punctilious honesty made him a favorite with all of the strong-minded men and women who sit on the Supreme Court.
The ability to serve three quite different masters and to win respect and affection from them all is a remarkable achievement. In the long and honored history of the office, no Solicitor General has served the public interest more conscientiously or effectively than Seth Waxman.
When he took the job, General Waxman said that he tries to live by the teaching of his parents, including Athe principle expressed in Hebrew as Tikkun Olam, which translates in English as "repair of the world." The world of politics, of law, of public service could use a bit of repair these days, and Seth Waxman is a shining example of how to do it. Seth, we are honored and glad to be part of your world.