Laying Down the Law


Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick '72 knows what it means to break barriers.

By the time she graduated, she had fought the University to achieve access for women to everything from football game passes to Fulbright scholarships.

"Men were automatically given passes and women had to be asked, so a group of us approached the University asking for equal access," Gorelick says. The University balked at the prospect, she adds, telling Gorelick and others in the end to "just get a date."

The fixed ratio of 300 women admits to the College limited Gorelick's base of support, but not her fighting spirit.

"I spent a lot of my time arguing with the University over gender issues," Gorelick says, recalling how she applied for a Fulbright scholarship more to prove a point than to get the opportunity to study abroad.

"Back then, all the scholarships were limited to men," she says. "I applied for the Fulbright because that made me mad, but when I realized afterward that was my motivation, I declined."

As deputy attorney general in the Justice Department since 1992, Gorelick took her litigious nature to court while assisting in the prosecution of such high-profile cases as the trial of Unabomber suspect Theodore J. Kaczynski '62, the inquiry into the Atlanta Olympic bombing and the Whitewater investigation.

Before joining the Clinton transition team and being appointed to the Department of Justice in 1992, Gorelick served as chief counsel for the Department of Defense, supervising nearly 7,000 lawyers with an immediate staff of about 60 civilian and military counsel.

Prior to that post, Gorelick worked for 16 years at Miller, Cassidy, Larrocca and Lewin, with a few pauses to work with the Carter administration's Energy Commission, the 1988 presidential campaign of Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and several legislative hearings.

At the same time, Gorelick managed to maintain a reputation in Washington as a Democrat without political commitments.

"She was not that active in political campaigns and that turned out to be an asset later on in her career because she was seen as achieving her position by merit and not political patronage," says Dr. Richard Waldhorn, Gorelick's husband of 22 years and chief of the division of pulmonary and critical-care medicine at Georgetown Hospital.

Gorelick and Waldhorn met in the seventh grade and were high-school sweethearts, but coordinating medical school and law school proved challenging even for the seasoned couple from Great Neck, N.Y. Finally settling in Bethesda, Md. to raise a daughter, Dana, 4, and a son, Daniel, 9, Waldhorn says life has settled into a steadier rhythm.

"Having young kids [when you work often] is in some ways easy, because they're so absorbed with just being kids, while older children might have more issues that need to be discussed and dealt with," Waldhorn says.

While shifting into a high-gear career and moving to the Washington area in 1976 meant a more stressful way of life, it also signaled the start of Gorelick's turn in the public spotlight. By the time she was appointed counsel at the Defense Department, Gorelick became aware that she had once again picked a hard fight.

Although Gorelick faced tough battles in high-profile cases at the Pentagon, such as the dispute over gays in the military, she says her greatest challenge stemmed from government programs which had begun before she even assumed the post.

"[The] Tailhook [scandal] occurred before I got there, but the actions to be taken in response to it fell to me," Gorelick says.

Advocating for women within the military infrastructure took on new meaning for Gorelick in light of President Clinton's efforts to increase the number of women in high-ranking positions.

"The role of women in the military was one of the President's main initiatives, and in dealing with it I had to maneuver around a lot of tough issues including the combat prohibition," says Gorelick, referring to the armed services' ban on allowing women to serve in combat zones.

While Gorelick says she often fields questions about the survival skills she cultivated while on duty as a female senior official at the Defense Department, she says she felt at home in the Pentagon because of the military's tradition of meritocracy and rules of mutual respect.

"One of the good things about the military is that it does respect rank," says Gorelick. "I had the equivalent rank of a four-star general, and in the military you don't just get respect, you have to slowly earn it."

Gorelick garnered enough respect during her time at the Defense Department that she was invited by President Clinton to join in the transition after his 1992 election. Attorney General Janet Reno tapped Gorelick as her chief adviser in 1993.

A few days before she began work at the Justice Department, Gorelick says she read a piece in The Washington Post which listed the median tenure for the average high-ranking Justice appointee at 22 months.

Rather than balking at the prospect of such a short appointment, Gorelick decided to set her own pace and concentrate on immediate goals.

"I got to Justice and I was the chief operating officer," Gorelick says. "Policy was set by the Attorney General, but making the [office] run was my job."

She says the position was a challenge at first because it necessitated a transition from a military decision-making system to civilian affairs.

"The Defense Department is as vertical in its organization as the Justice Department is horizontal," Gorelick says.

Experience prosecuting cases as the Defense Department's general counsel and as chair of the 60,000-member District of Columbia Bar prepared Gorelick for the post, but becoming Reno's chief adviser during turbulent times meant having to hoe a tough row.

"She handled it very well but it was hard work," Waldhorn says. "It was not so much being in the public eye as the front-page nature of the decisions coming before her desk every 15 minutes," he says.

"It was daunting and there were points when I wondered if I could deal with it," says Gorelick, of public scrutiny and critique. But the former Quincy House resident is quick to note that an undergraduate aspiration to "change the world" bore fruit thanks to her three-year stay at the Justice Department.

"The potential for having an impact on society was enormous," Gorelick says. "I feel I've had the best job a lawyer can get, both in terms of how interesting it is and the ability to impact the world," she says.

When she resigned last year as deputy attorney general to become vice chair at the Fannie Mae Corporation, Gorelick says she made a conscious decision to switch gears in her career.

"The job at Justice only worked as a sprint," says Gorelick. "I was losing touch with elements of my community--the synagogue, the kids' school. At the same time, I was losing the desire to be flat out [at Justice] on my toes every minute to think, live and breathe that job."

Moving to work as part of the three-person office at Fannie Mae--which ranks No. 27 on the Fortune 500 list of companies and has perhaps the largest group assets of any company in the U.S. today--Gorelick hopes to continue her service to the American public.

"The job is perfect for me because I can work in the private sector for the public good.

"Most of my friends now are from college," says Gorelick, explaining that late-night debates and dinner discussions furnished bonds of friendship that lingered long after Commencement 1972. "I think [college] was a time when you argue as strongly as you're ever going to. It was truly a period of intensity."

Gorelick will be awarded the Radcliffe Alumni Association Award for distinguished alumnae during reunion week, and she is scheduled to receive the Margaret Brandt Award for women of distinction in the law from the American Bar Association in August