Q: In recent years, you have remained active in public affairs, serving as a member of the Indigent Services Board, advising another group that recommended increasing the age of criminal responsibility and recently being appointed to cochair a state bar special committee looking to increase voter participation. Is there a dominant theme to your extracurricular activities?
A: Since age 7 or 8, I never wanted to be anything other than a lawyer and I guess my dominant interest has been to make the law serve and be responsible to the changing needs of society and its government, through law making, advocacy and action on behalf of causes. I was very inspired by Tom Dewey's run for governor, and I was always interested in the operation of government and always wanted to run for elective office. At that tender age I thought you had to be a lawyer to be in government and elective office, and I never looked back.
Q: Where do your civic mindedness and values come from?
A: My civic mindedness and values came principally from my family upbringing, communities I have lived in, my education [at a Jesuit college] my [Roman Catholic] religious faith, and my supportive family. I grew up in a family where service was a part of your life. I have always believed in Christ's message to work for the poor and underprivilegedwhen did you dress me, when did you feed me, when did you visit me in prison? That was very much part of the Jesuit approach at Georgetown. I came face-to-face with the realities of those principles at Yale [Law School], where the common good was a principal goal of being a lawyer.
Q: You were elected as a Republican but have taken a number of 'liberal' positionsincluding drug law reformand served on the transition committees of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Albany County District Attorney David Soares, both Democrats. Where do you stand politically?
A: While it is a lonely role, I consider myself a 'Rockefeller Republican.' I reject the Ronald Reagan idea that government is the problem, but rather I see that government can be an instrument to improve the lives of the citizens through what I characterize as a user-friendly government, which responds to carefully identified needs for change. Another is to apply the [St. Ignatius Loyola] principle of respect for the sincerity and goodwill of your critics and adversaries. Their views are to be respected, and you learn from them through discussion and debate. In the end, you have to be willing to risk political capital to achieve that goal, and I think that singles out Rocky as much as anything. He was the leading exemplar of those principles in the late 20th century.
Q: With the Court of Appeals' opinions in 'New York State Bankers Association v. Wetzler,' 81 NY2d 98 (1993), and in 'Pataki v. Silver,' 4 NY3d 75 (2004), both of which recognized extraordinarily broad executive budget powers, how did the dynamics change vis-à-vis the relationship and respective powers of the political branches?
A: The Court of Appeals' decisions in Wetzler and Silver completely changed the dynamics of lawmaking in Albany and I believe contributed to the breakdown of the quest for the common good, replaced by a sense of 'getting even' on non-budgetary issues, which, in turn, has led to the obscene amount of money being spent to retain the power of the members of the Legislature. It terribly upset the balance of powers. Perhaps the greatest example is what has come to be referred to as the 'nuclear option,' when Governor David Paterson sent up extender bills when the Legislature had not yet agreed upon a final budget. He put language in those bills [that effected major policy changes] and the Legislature had very little choiceeither vote for it or shut down the government. As a result, I think there has been more of an adversarial relationship.
Q: How did you come to be appointed head of the civil rights bureau in the U.S. Department of Justice in the early 1990s?
A: I was supported by President Bush to be the assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice on the recommendation of Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Dick and I met when we were members of a delegation of state officials to Japan hosted by the Japanese government in 1972. We had kept in close touch over the years and when the president's first candidate for the job was rejected by the Senate, in desperation, he turned to me!