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Tags: ken starr | special prosecutor | bill clinton | impeachment | whitewater scandal | supreme court

Remembering Ken Starr: Almost To the Supreme Court, A Gentleman and Scholar

Ken Starr (Getty Images)

John Gizzi By Wednesday, 14 September 2022 09:57 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

When news broke Tuesday of Ken Starr's death at age 76, he was primarily remembered in the press for controversies of his middle years.

He was the special prosecutor in the Whitewater scandal in which he recommended the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and, in 2016, as president of Baylor University who resigned after a report that the venerable institution had not responded to incidents of rape and sexual violence among students.

Although permitted to remain as chancellor of Baylor and a professor at its law school, Starr resigned as both and told reporters: "The captain goes down with the ship."

He was also on the legal team for Donald Trump's impeachment trial in 2020, at one point acknowledging the contradiction in his own testimony for Clinton's impeachment and agreeing that such a procedure causes "grave disruption" to the election of a president.

Less recalled is that Starr, a courtly, easy-going Texan, was once on just about everyone's short list for appointment to the Supreme Court.

Named in 1983 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by Ronald Reagan, Starr left what was frequently characterized as the "second highest court in the land" and a launching pad for many a Supreme Court justice to become George H.W. Bush's U.S. solicitor general in 1987.

Three years later, when Supreme Court Justice William Brennan retired, Starr was on the "short list" for appointment along with U.S. District Judge Edith Jones of Texas and U.S. Appellate Judge David Souter of New Hampshire.

Almost incredibly, reports surfaced that Starr was somehow insufficiently conservative and had a cabal of opposition from within the Department of Justice opposing his possible nomination. Bush eventually nominated Souter, who would almost from the start disappoint and enrage conservatives.

A straight-A student at Sam Houston High School in San Antonio, Texas, the young Starr earned his B.A. from George Washington University, a Master's Degree from Brown University, and a law degree from Duke University (where, to no one's surprise, he was editor of the Duke Law Journal).

After a stint in private practice and as clerk to Chief Justice Warren Burger in the 1970s, Starr became chief of staff to Reagan's Attorney General William French Smith. From there, Starr went to the Court of Appeals and then to the office of solicitor general.

The end of George H.W. Bush's administration sent Starr back to private practice, but not for long. In 1994, a three-judge federal panel picked him as the special prosecutor to investigate the death a year before of Bill Clinton's White House Counsel Vince Foster (which Starr concluded was a suicide after Foster's battle with clinical depression).

But the jurists soon expanded Starr's mandate and, with Supreme Court Justice-to-be Brett Kavanaugh as his right-hand man, the special prosecutor was investigating the Whitewater affair (the Clintons' complicated dealings over a property in Arkansas) and the president's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

In nationally televised testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in 1998, Starr read his report calling for Clinton's impeachment. The president was subsequently impeached by the House but later acquitted by the Senate. Clinton and Starr were Time Magazine's "Men of the Year" for 1998.

Back in the private sector, Starr pursued one of his great passions: a fight to end the limits and regulations on political contributions to campaigns for federal office in the early 1970s.

"[Minnesota's Democratic Sen.] Gene McCarthy had six big contributors to his campaign against President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and that was about it," Starr told Newsmax in 2001. "He took down a sitting president and made history. But under today's rules, McCarthy couldn't have done it. He had venture capital — a research grant — for something far-reaching and historic."

To no one's surprise, Starr was the lead attorney filing a class-action lawsuit against the regulation-heavy Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 also known as McCain-Feingold. While much of the legislation has been struck down by succeeding court rulings, it still remains on the books.

After teaching law and serving as dean of Pepperdine Law School, Starr in 2010 moved on to the presidency and chancellorship of Baylor.

Last year, Starr recalled to Newsmax what moved him, in his mid-70's, to write "Religious Liberty in America: Exercising Your Faith in An Age of Uncertainty," a provocative tome on how freedom of religion has long been under fire in America but survived because, in his words, "the Supreme Court almost always got it right."

"When the pandemic hit and I saw these orders being issued closing down or virtually closing down churches," he told us, "I said, 'It's time to write.' I have been writing this book in my head for 40 years, when I joined the Reagan Administration. I saw up close the bone-headedness of local officials to local and state officials who didn't understand the fundamentals of American liberty, including religious liberty."

Asked how he would like to be remembered, Starr replied without hesitation: "As an American who tried to protect and defend the culture of human liberty."

Summarizing Ken Starr on the morning after his death, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Bill Pryor of Alabama spoke for many when he said: "Ken Starr was a gentleman and a scholar."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

When news broke Tuesday of Ken Starr's death at age 76, he was primarily remembered in the press for controversies of his middle years.
ken starr, special prosecutor, bill clinton, impeachment, whitewater scandal, supreme court
Wednesday, 14 September 2022 09:57 AM
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