THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release December 27, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN ANNOUNCEMENT OF ROGER GREGORY
TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
The Oval Office
3:00 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Thirty-nine years ago, the great grandson of a slave became the first
African American to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the
Second Circuit. In 1961, amid fierce opposition, President John F. Kennedy
appointed Thurgood Marshall as only the second African American to fill a
vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals. In doing so, President Kennedy not
only ensured that the people of the Second Circuit would be served by an
excellent jurist, he also took a big step forward in America's ongoing
efforts for equal opportunity in every aspect of our life, including our
Judge Marshall went on to become one of our nation's most
distinguished jurists, highlighted by his 1967 appointment by President
Johnson as the first African American justice of the United States Supreme
President Kennedy's action was in the grand tradition of
Presidents of both parties, dating all the way back to George Washington,
who have used their constitutional authority to bring much needed balance
and excellence to our nation's courts.
Four of the first five African Americans to ascend to the
appellate bench were initially appointed in the same fashion that I employ
today. To fill a similar gap in our judicial system, I am honored today to
announce my appointment of Roger Gregory, one of Richmond's most respected
trial lawyers, to fill an emergency vacancy on the United States Court of
Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. I will renominate him when Congress
returns in January, and I urge the Senate to confirm him.
I take this extraordinary step for extraordinary reasons. First,
the people of the Fourth Circuit are not receiving the judicial
representation they deserve. The U.S. Judicial Conference has declared
this seat a judicial emergency. It has been vacant for more than a decade.
In the last five years alone, Fourth Circuit caseloads have increased more
than 15 percent; yet one-third of its judgeships are vacant. This has left
too many citizens waiting in line for justice. It is a travesty in a
nation that prides itself in the fair and expeditious rule of law.
Second, it is unconscionable that the Fourth Circuit, with the
largest African American population of any circuit in our nation, has never
had an African American appellate judge. As I said when I first nominated
Roger Gregory, it is long past time to right that wrong. Justice may be
blind, but we all know that diversity in the courts, as in all aspects of
society, sharpens our vision and makes us a stronger nation.
Time and again, for five years now, I have tried and tried to
fill these gaps in justice and equality. And time and again, for five
years now, the Senate majority has stood in the way.
Third, and perhaps most important, Roger Gregory is the right man
at the right time to fulfill this historic role. His life is a testament
to the power and promise of the American Dream.
The son of factory workers, he's the first in his family to
graduate from high school, let alone college and law school. He graduated
summa cum laude from Virginia State University, and went on to earn his law
degree from the University of Michigan Law School. He returned to teach at
Virginia State, where his mother had once worked as a dormitory maid.
He is now one of Virginia's leading litigators, and one of its
most civic-minded citizens. He's earned high praise from all quarters,
including the American Bar Association, religious leaders, and both of
Virginia's senators -- Republican Senate John Warner, and Democratic
Senator Chuck Robb.
I want especially to thank Senator Robb for all he has done to
make this day possible -- for his tireless leadership in the Senate on this
and so many other issues. He worked very hard to get back here today, but
the bad weather down in Texas made it impossible. But I do want to thank
him. He convinced me, and when I looked into the record I saw that it was
absolutely true that Roger Gregory would make an excellent judge for all
the people of the Fourth Circuit.
In closing, let me say I have not come to this decision lightly.
I have always respected the Senate's role in the appointment process.
Indeed, I have made far fewer recess appointments than President Reagan did
in his eight years, and I believe that the record on that is perfectly
clear. On the other hand, I am compelled by the facts and history to do
what I can to remedy an injustice that for too long has plagued the Fourth
Circuit, and that I have tried for too long to remedy in the established
As President, it is my constitutional responsibility to see that
justice for all is not just what we promise, it's what we practice. That
is the principle behind my appointment of this distinguished American
Mr. Gregory, congratulations.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)
Thank you very much. Mr. President, thank you very much for this
honor. On behalf of myself and my family -- my wife Carla, my daughter
Adrienne, my daughter Rachel, and my daughter Christina, we thank you very
much. I look forward to serving with integrity and distinction, and to
serve with the honored jurists on that Fourth Circuit Court. I look
forward to their collegiality and also their wise counsel.
Again, with the greatest of Almighty God and the considered
judgment of all men and women, I look forward to carrying out that
function. And, Mr. President, thank you very much for giving me that honor
to serve all Virginians and West Virginians, South Carolina, North
Carolina, and Maryland on the Fourth Circuit.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
I'll answer your questions, but I can't resist injecting just a
little bit of levity here. One of the things you want in a judge is
someone who is well organized and has a good sense of timing. His children
are 18, 12, and 6. (Laughter.) I think that ought to be evidence in the
hearing on his appointment. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. President, has the Mideast peace process been set back
by the Palestinian reluctance to accept your proposals for an agreement
with Israel? And do you have any indication of whether Thursday's summit
is going to go forward?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say first, this is the first chance
I've had to comment on the substance here, so -- the parties are engaged in
a renewed effort to reach an agreement. Based on the months and months of
discussion I've had on these final status issues, we have attempted to
narrow the range of outstanding matters in a way that meets the essential
needs of both sides.
The whole question now is whether they agree to continue
negotiation on the basis of these ideas. We've got to bring this to a
conclusion if we're going to continue. The issues are extremely difficult,
but they are closer than they have ever been before. And I hope and pray
they will seize this opportunity. And I think that is all I should say at
this time. The less I say, the better.
Q Is that right -- you haven't heard from them? It sounds
like you have not. The Palestinian officials have been saying they cannot
accept your proposals.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll see what happens. Prime Minister
Barak has said that he would accept and continue negotiations if the
Palestinians would, and we'll see what happens. There's a lot of things
going on now, and will be in the next several days, and I think, as I said,
the less I say about them all, the better.
Q Have you received a response, an actual response from the
THE PRESIDENT: I said all I'm going to say about this today.
Q Mr. President, what were your first thoughts when you saw
the news of the shootings up in Massachusetts?
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me?
Q When you saw the shootings in Massachusetts -- I'm wondering
what your first thoughts were and what you would say to the nation in this
holiday season with that happening.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I feel what I always feel when tragedy
befalls Americans, and I hope that they will remember that this holiday
season, interestingly enough in this season, is not only the Christian
season of Christmas, but the great Jewish and Muslim holy days happen to
coincide in the same week this year. So I hope that we will remember
amidst our celebration to pray for all the people involved.
Q Mr. President, do you think the issue of minority judgeships
should be brought up in the Ashcroft confirmation hearings? And was this
appointment in part aimed at highlighting that issue and could, in fact,
those hearings increase Mr. Gregory's chances of a confirmation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I should answer the second question
clearly. This is unrelated. I have tried for five years to put an African
American on the Fourth Circuit -- for five years. Now -- and for all the
reasons that I made in my -- stated in my remarks, I think it is most
unfortunate that it has not been done, and I was just determined to do it.
It's just time to do it.
On the other question, that is something that the Senate will
have to deal with. I'll be -- it's not my appointment and I won't be
President and I don't think I should say any more about it. The Senate
will do what it thinks is proper there.
Q The President of South Korea says he thinks it is unlikely
you'll visit North Korea before January 20th. Have you moved any further
toward a decision, whether it's an envoy there to see if North Korea is
ready to reduce its missile program?
THE PRESIDENT: We have been in touch with the North Koreans, and
I may have some more to say about that. You know I just have a limited
number of days here before I leave office and I'm trying to get as much
done as I can, including on that. I may have some more to say in the next
few days about it.
Q Mr. President, the reimportation of drugs law that you
signed and which today you received the letter from Secretary Shalala, some
folks are wondering why you would sign a law that contained such supposed
flaws as were identified by the Secretary. Do you have any plan to negate,
circumvent, or seek to counteract or overturn her ruling?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, what she -- I said when I signed the law
that it was deeply flawed. She is required by law to make a determination
that -- two things -- one, that the reimportation would not weaken the
safety standards that we have for Americans and their pharmaceuticals. I
think she could do that. But the second was, she had to make a
determination by law that this would lower prices for American consumers.
And the law was so different from the one we proposed and is so full of
loopholes that she could not say in good conscience that she believed that
the prices for consumers would go down, which is exactly what I warned when
I asked them not to do this.
So what we'd like to see is a law that protects safety that will
lower consumer prices. I don't think that people ought to be able to do
this, and -- I did before, but I will again, as soon as the Congress comes
back -- I'll send them a statement of the things that I believe would meet
the standard of the law. I think that Secretary Shalala did what she
thought the law required her to do, and since she couldn't certify that
American consumers wouldn't get lower prices, she didn't want to hold out
false hope and be involved in something she thought was not legitimate.
So I hope we can work this out. I do think there was in the last
Congress and I think there will be in this one a majority for allowing
Americans to reimport drugs under strict safety standards at lower prices.
But I think we have to do it in a way where we don't promise something that
doesn't materialize. That's all, really, that was at issue here. And I
think -- we'll send something up in the way of clarifying language as soon
as they come back next week, and see what we can do.
Q Mr. President, the Bush team has said that they're going
through all of your executive orders and your administration's regulations
with a fine-tooth comb, and they may undo them. Are you concerned about
this, and do you think that this recess appointment could go the way some
of your executive orders might?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they have very different views on the
environment, particularly, and on some other issues. And when they take
office, you have to expect them to do what they think is right. And you
have to expect the people who disagree to disagree, and democracy will work
its will and then the citizens of the country will make their judgments.
All I can do is to do what I think is right. And these things
that we've been doing lately are things that we've been working on for
years. For example, the -- let me just use one example -- the medical
privacy regulations, which I think are profoundly important, we tried to do
that through legislation, and the Congress -- to be fair to the Congress --
adopted a bill which said, okay, we've got to get this work done by a
certain date, but if we can't get it done, then the administration can take
action. So when it became obvious that because of all the conflicting
interest groups that it wouldn't be possible for them to do that, when the
date elapsed, past, we decided that we would take action, as the Congress
had explicitly authorized us to do.
In terms of Secretary Browner's order regarding the trucks and
the fuel, diesel fuel, which I think is a very, very important part of our
clean air efforts, when asthma is the number one health problem among
children in our country today, we've been working on that for years.
That's not some sort of 11th hour thing. It's just that we didn't -- this
is when we finished and so we did it.
And I think we should just do what we think is right, and then
when they get in, they'll do what they think is right. That's what
democracy is all about. And they'll either -- if they want to undo these
things, then they'll either be able to do it or they won't, as the process
plays itself out. That's the way the system works. And I have no problem
with that. They have to do what they think is right, just like we do.
Q Mr. President, are you still considering providing pardons
for some of the Whitewater figures?
THE PRESIDENT: I expect to do another round of pardons, but I
haven't had any meetings or made any decisions about any others yet. I
just expect to do some. I have done -- I haven't seen the final numbers,
but before the last batch at least, I had done fewer than any President in
almost 30 years. And part of that, frankly, is the way the system works,
something I'm not entirely satisfied with. But I think that it is
appropriate for the President to do them where circumstances are
I have always thought that Presidents and governors, when I was a
governor, should be quite conservative on commutations -- that is, there
needs to be a very specific reason if you reduce someone's sentence or let
them out -- but more broad-minded about pardons because, in so many states
in America, pardons are necessary to restore people's rights of
citizenship. Particularly if they committed relatively minor offenses, or
if some years have elapsed and they've been good citizens and there's no
reason to believe they won't be good citizens in the future, I think we
ought to give them a chance, having paid the price, to be restored to full
And in that sense, I think that the word is almost misused,
because it's not like you -- you can't erase the fact that someone has been
convicted and served his sentence, in the case of those who have; but there
are many people, including more people than I get their applications to my
desk -- many people don't have lawyers, they don't even know to ask for a
pardon -- but they'd like to vote at election time, they'd like to be full
citizens, and they're out there working hard and paying taxes -- and they
have paid the price.
So I would like to be in a position to do that. A lot of the
folks -- virtually all of them on the first list I released, 58 I think,
were people that are unknown to most Americans. They're not people with
money or power or influence. And I wish I could do some more of them --
I'm going to try. I'm trying to get it out of the system that exists, that
existed before I got here, and I'm doing the best I can.
Q You gave wrap-up foreign policy speeches in London and in
Nebraska. Do you have any other speeches, summation speeches planned for
other policy areas?
THE PRESIDENT: I expect I'll do one on domestic policy; I'm
trying. We're looking for a venue, and after the first of the year I'll
probably do at least one more.
Thank you all very much.
Q What about Gray Davis?
Q Are you going to take reporters on your next house-hunting
trip, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) I hope I don't have to do any more.
END 3:18 P.M. EST