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Clinton to contest Supreme Court suspension

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former President Bill Clinton will contest Monday's Supreme Court order that suspended him from practicing law before the high court, his attorney said.

The Supreme Court gave Clinton 40 days to argue why he should not be permanently disbarred.

"This suspension is simply a consequence of the voluntary settlement entered into last January with the Arkansas bar. Pursuant to the Supreme Court's order, we will show cause why disbarment is not appropriate," said attorney David E. Kendall.

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As is its custom, the Supreme Court offered no explanation for the order. Court observers said such suspensions nearly always lead to permanent disbarments.

In January, Clinton reached an agreement with independent counsel Robert Ray that suspended his Arkansas law license for five years and ordered the former president to pay $25,000 in fines to that state's bar officials. Clinton also gave up any claim of repayment of his legal fees in the matter.

In return, Ray ended the 7-year Whitewater probe that shadowed most of Clinton's two terms in the White House.

The Arkansas Supreme Court's Committee on Professional Conduct initially called for Clinton's disbarment last year, saying he lied about his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Clinton was asked about Lewinsky during a January 1998 deposition in a sexual harassment suit brought by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee. His attempt to conceal the affair while under oath led to his 1998 impeachment and 1999 acquittal by the Senate.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never disbarred a former president, said presidential historian and author Stanley Kutler, emeritus professor of history and law at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Richard Nixon -- disbarred from the New York bar in 1976, two years after he resigned the presidency -- resigned from the U.S. Supreme Court bar before any action was taken, said Kutler, who is perhaps best known for his 1997 book, "Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes."

Nixon, who argued one case before the Supreme Court before becoming president, also resigned from the California bar.

What prompted the court's action? The Supreme Court routinely suspends lawyers from appearing before it if they have been suspended or disbarred by courts elsewhere.

Clinton accepted a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license as part of the agreement that closed the Whitewater investigation.

What's next? Clinton has 40 days to argue against disbarment, and his spokesman said he would fight.

What would the impact be? If the court acts, Clinton would become the first former president to be disbarred by the high court. The action would be mostly symbolic, however: Clinton has never personally argued before the court.

The decision on Clinton came as the Supreme Court opened its 2001-2002 session.

With U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson looking on, Chief Justice William Rehnquist opened the court term by recognizing "the terrible loss" caused by the September 11 terrorist attacks and expressed condolences to Olson over his wife's death.

Barbara Olson was a passenger on the hijacked jet that crashed into the Pentagon.

"Before we hear the first argument, let us take a moment to recognize the terrible loss caused by the terrorist attacks on America that occurred on September 11," Rehnquist said.

"I know our hearts go out to the families of those killed and injured. We extend our condolences to the Solicitor General of the United States Theodore Olson for the loss of his wife Barbara.

"In the aftermath of the attacks we have witnessed extraordinary bravery and compassion from Americans from all walks of life. Let us take a moment to grieve with those who mourn, and honor those who have heroically performed their duty," Rehnquist said.

Olson sat in the front bench, flanked by former solicitors general Kenneth Starr and Seth Waxman.

Olson, as solicitor general, leads the Justice Department attorneys who argue cases on behalf of the U.S. government.

In the two cases argued Monday, assistants to Olson defended the government's position. Olson is scheduled to argue the government's case for the first time in a case next week.



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