Supreme Court ends Clinton's law career

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Bill Clinton suffered a final embarrassment stemming from the Whitewater/Monica Lewinsky investigation yesterday when the Supreme Court barred him from practising law before the country's highest court.

Given that the former president has not made a living from the law since the 1970s – when he was in private practice and became the attorney general of his home state of Arkansas – and has given no indication he would do so now, the decision is largely symbolic.

But it will be a bitter and humbling postscript to his eight years in the White House, scarred by continuous scandal culminating in the revelation of his affair with the intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to the first impeachment of a sitting president since that of Andrew Johnson in the 19th century.

As is usual in such cases, the high court suspended Mr Clinton and gave him 40 days to appeal. But legal experts said it was unlikely he would do so. In that case, the suspension would automatically become a permanent disbarment.

The Supreme Court issued its ruling without comment or indication of how it had voted on the issue. But its action follows a well-established pattern whereby people barred from practising law in their own states are similarly treated by the highest federal court.

As part of the final settlement with the last Whitewater special prosecutor, Robert Ray, Mr Clinton agreed to pay a $25,000 (£17,000) fine for lying under oath before a federal grand jury that he had sexual relations with Ms Lewinsky, and to accept a five-year suspension of his law licence by the Arkansas Supreme Court. In such circumstances, suspension by the US Supreme Court is standard.

The deal with Mr Ray, who succeeded Mr Clinton's nemesis, Kenneth Starr, as Special Prosecutor, came in the closing weeks of his presidency. Mr Clinton had been hoping to secure a shorter ban.

But the withdrawal from the Arkansas state legal committee of eight members who had personal ties with the former president left him facing an overwhelmingly hostile panel. In the end, Mr Clinton had to accept the punishment meted out to other Arkansas lawyers caught up in the investigation, which over six years mutated from a probe into an obscure Arkansas land deal into a lurid sex scandal. In return, Mr Ray promised not to prosecute Mr Clinton after he left office.

The future plans of the 42nd president are unclear. A hectic lecture schedule, with fees of up to $100,000 a speech, is believed to have cleared the bulk of legal bills from Whitewater, put at up to $5m. In August, he signed a contract to write his memoirs, for which he reportedly will receive a $10m advance. Since the 11 September terrorist attacks he has made some public appearances, but he has studiously avoided anything that might upstage President George Bush.