Earlier this week, I had the bittersweet experience of arguing a case in the same courtroom where Ken Starr sat as a judge from 1985 to 1986, when I was his legal assistant. For a few moments of solitude before the arguments began, I looked at his portrait hanging on the wall and recalled with emotion the many examples of Christian discipleship he gave to me and so many others.
The court he served on was the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, often referred to as the “second highest court in the land” because of the major role it plays, one level below the Court supreme, in the supervision of federal government agencies. government. In his role as a judge of this court (generally referred to as “the DC circuit”), Starr left a distinguished legacy of important opinions in a number of areas, including statutory interpretation, church and civil law. state, freedom of the press and, of course, administrative law.
From there, he would go on to serve with great distinction as the Solicitor General of the United States – the nation’s top courtroom attorney and representative before the Supreme Court. He also became a partner at one of the nation’s largest law firms, where he worked during his famous stint as an independent attorney investigating former President Bill Clinton. He would later serve as Dean of Law School at Pepperdine University, as President and Chancellor of Baylor University, and finally, as Professor of Constitutional Law at Baylor. In recent years, he has turned his efforts to protecting religious freedom, publishing a highly regarded book on the subject.
Despite this impressive resume, I soon learned as a clerk, and saw in our long subsequent friendship, that the title that meant the most to him was not Judge, General, Associate, Professor, dean or president.
It was Christian.
And he lived up to that title in each of his many professional roles.
Early in my work for him, for example, I was struck by his treatment of people with different viewpoints. In the DC Circuit during the 1980s, there were deep divisions on a number of important issues, including, most fundamentally, the proper role of the judiciary in our system of government. I remember talking to a clerk from another judge about a case we were both working on and being surprised when he said, “We’re excited about this case because it’s going give us a chance to make a small law.
I thought, I doubt my boss would approach the matter that way.
But despite differences large and small, Starr has always treated his colleagues and their clerks with the utmost kindness and respect, as he has for his own clerks and other staff members. I have never seen or heard a word of anger, harsh or biting, written or spoken. And his door was always open to a colleague, or even another employee, who wanted to try to persuade him to change his mind when they disagreed.
Starr’s kindness to his colleagues extended to the lawyers who appeared before him, which I appreciate more now that I often find myself on the other side of the bench. Yes, Starr was an active and incisive questioner. But I’ve never seen him succumb to the temptation – if he was ever really tempted – to belittle or belittle the lawyer who presents arguments before him, despite the target-rich environment those arguments often provide. Nor was there ever any attempt to prove to the arguing lawyers that he knew more about the law or the case than they did (although he almost always did) and he didn’t. never showed any expression of frustration or anger towards them. Here too, courtesy and courtesy were his watchwords.
What surprised and touched me the most, however, was how he treated the support staff.
Shortly after starting my externship, I remember being questioned by a court employee – a cashier in the cafeteria – for whom I worked. When I told her I worked for Starr, she had a huge smile on her face and said, “He’s Phone a nice man. Just last week he was here and we started talking about…” and she continued to recount what had obviously been a long conversation, which left her feeling like he was her friend.
I also noticed, as we walked around the building together, that he seemed to know the name of every secretary, janitor, or housekeeper we encountered, and something about them. As a result, they all loved him, partly because his very presence in the building made their more satisfying jobs.
I learned the following year that so did Supreme Court support staff who had known him when he was clerk there (for Chief Justice Warren Burger) more than a decade later. early.
He was always loved, for example, by the Supreme Court barber, who was so slow that a judge had joked of his service, “every hair gets personal attention”. Starr had obviously had long conversations with the barber, which he told me in full as I sat in his chair. And he liked the fact that, long after his internship at court, Starr still popped in every once in a while to say hello. For the barber, and for so many others, Starr’s presence had been a source of joy, a reason to look forward to coming to work.
I’ve heard the same kind of stories from many of Starr’s associates in his later positions — at the United States Solicitor General’s office, at the law firms he worked at, at Pepperdine and at Baylor.
Why did Starr behave this way with everyone around him? A main reason, in my opinion, was that he was an avid student of the Bible, especially the New Testament, and strove to incorporate into his life and character the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. One of those qualities—and the common thread running through all of those experiences with Starr—is beautifully captured in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “Charity is long-suffering and good; … charity does not boast, is not puffed up, … does not seek its own, [and] is not easily provoked…”
Thank you, Ken Starr, for modeling this central Christian virtue for all of us, not only in your personal and family life, but also in your professional life. May God be with you until we meet again.
Gene Schaerr, a Washington DC attorney and assistant professor at BYU Law School, served as law clerk to Ken Starr when he was a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
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