Clinton administration

  • March 9, 2011
    Former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, one of the longest-serving in history, details parts of her remarkable career, including tackling prejudices long set in place by a male-dominated profession, in a "Legends in the Law," profile for Washington Lawyer.

    Gorelick, a partner at WilmerHale, served as Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration, recounted an early experience as the only woman attorney at a small law firm. On her first day Gorelick said the firm's managing partner assured her that she should feel comfortable at the firm and that she was welcome there. Then the managing attorney proceeded to tell her about the practice's "atmosphere." The managing attorney, Gorelick recounted, said the "guys call each other by their first names and the gals, meaning the secretaries, call the guys by their first names unless there is a client around, in which case they call them by their last names. As he talked about ‘the guys do this and the gals do that,' I asked him, What am I? He said, without skipping a beat, ‘Oh, you're a guy.' This was my first introduction to how odd a duck I was in this water. I had to prove to my colleagues at the firm and in the white collar litigation bar that I was capable of being a litigator."

    Before serving in the Justice Department, Gorelick (pictured at the 2007 ACS National Convention) was the general counsel for the U.S. Department of Defense, when the Clinton administration was struggling with the service of lesbian and gay men in the military. Regarding the development of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," policy, which Congress and the Obama administration have repealed, Gorelick said it was due to "tremendous resistance in Congress to changing the policy toward gays, and the way in which the president announced it, without letting it percolate at DOD, ...."

    She continued, "I thought at the time, and General Powell has said this since, that ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' was a way station. The senior military officers knew that they had gay service members around them, but the enlisted personnel and the mid-level personnel thought that there weren't any gays in the military. That was because, of course, you were discharged if you revealed that you were gay. That made the views about gay people highly distorted. It seemed inevitable to me that society would become more welcoming to gays."

    Regarding her work with former Attorney General Jane Reno, Gorelick described Reno as having an "enormous appetite and capacity for learning. She made decisions by really burrowing into issues. That meant that her decisions had great intellectual integrity because she really paid attention; she was her own quality control."

    The entire interview is available here.