Solicitor general nominee likely to face questions about detainees

It's terrific theater, these hearings into President Bush's United Nations Ambassador-nominee John Bolton, but don't look for more of the same at the confirmation hearing for the solicitor general post.

Paul Clement does not try to get recalcitrant bureaucrats fired, does not yell at subordinates, does not engender much odium even among those he bests in court when presenting the administration's case. He does not even have a mustache.

"He's no John Bolton," said one Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee aide, albeit a bit sadly.

Elliott Mincberg, general counsel of People for the American Way, made the same comparison, and predicted that liberals will not oppose Clement, who has been acting solicitor general for nine months, after serving three years as deputy solicitor general. But Mincberg said he might oppose Clement if Bush ever nominates him for the federal bench.

A Wisconsin native, Georgetown graduate, and Harvard Law School luminary, Clement will likely be questioned by Judiciary Democrats about Bush administration policies regarding terrorism "detainees." The ordeal is not likely to be any tougher than the grilling that Clement got from the Supreme Court on the same issue, in cases he partially won and partially lost.

"He can make the unreasonable sound reasonable," said opposing counsel Frank Dunham Jr., after one of those Supreme Court sessions.

"Paul Clement is not only a terrific lawyer and advocate, but he's a warm and open-minded individual who listens to others and is always open to being persuaded by cogent argument," Democratic legal scholar Walter Dellinger told National Journal.

"He is, of course, young to be solicitor general," added Dellinger, who served in that post under President Clinton. "But he will do credit to the office."

At 38, Clement would be the youngest solicitor general since William Howard Taft, 32. Asked about this comparison with the last president to have facial hair and the only one to ever get stuck in the White House while bathing, the svelte Clement replied, "So far, I have managed to make it out of the bathtub."

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