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PostKenneth Starr, 1946-2022 (David Duggan, USA, 09/15/22 4:07 am)
Kenneth Starr's death at the age of 76 from complications relating to an undescribed surgery has been underreported. There is an argument he was the most important political figure of the 1990s but in what may be described as karma, he resigned as president of Baylor University, perhaps the best Southern Baptist-affiliated institution in the country, because of a sex scandal (though he was not personally implicated).
I heard Starr speak twice, once in an address to the Federalist Society in the early 1990s when he was the Solicitor General of the United States (he who argues the Government's position at the Supreme Court), and the second when he addressed the national conference of the Christian Legal Society in the mid-2000s. Ironically these two speeches bracketed his most famous appointment--as the "special prosecutor" in the Whitewater-Monica Lewinsky paired scandals of the Clinton administration.
In his Federalist Society speech he contrasted his role as Solicitor General to that of judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to which he had been appointed in 1983 at the relatively young age of 37. The DC Circuit is often regarded as the most important court in the country as it hears regulatory cases that the Supremes can't be bothered with, and Starr described the regulatory framework as having "mind-boggling complexity." He longed for hearing "common-law" cases arising disputes not based on federal regulatory law. As Solicitor General, he had to present to the Supremes a coherent reason why the Court should rule one way or another notwithstanding the regulations' complexity: if you prize oral advocacy, there is no finer job in the world.
I don't recall so much of his Christian Legal Society speech, but there is no denying that Starr was a man of deep faith. Son of a Churches of Christ minister (a loose affiliation of Bible churches but it's hard to label a denomination), he attended George Washington University, Brown and then Duke Law School. He may be Duke's most famous graduate, eclipsing Richard Nixon. Post his government service, he headed Pepperdine's law school (disgraced, convicted and commuted Illinois ex-governor Rod Blagojevich is a grad), then Baylor (ironically, Leon Jaworski, the "special prosecutor" who brought down Nixon is a graduate of its law school). Blinkered eyes over Baylor's football players doing what comes naturally led to his resignation. As a friend suggested with dripping irony and metaphor, "He who lives by the sword dies by it."
Historians will ultimately Judge Starr's effectiveness as prosecutor, judge, advocate, and administrator. His actions in the Whitewater investigation ultimately led to a substantial curtailment of the "independent counsel's" remit, and we have not seen his likes since, Robert Mueller notwithstanding. But one thing cannot be challenged: his eye for talent. One of his first hires in the special prosecutor's office, Amy St. Eve, now sits on the federal appellate court in Chicago.
Kenneth Starr, RIP.
JE comments: Ken Starr spoke at Adrian College some three years ago, just as the Mueller report was released. His remarks were very pro-Trump and dismissive of Mueller--a rather surprising tone from history's best-known special prosecutor. His death comes on the heels of the passing of both Gorbachev and Elizabeth II. This late summer has taken a heavy toll.