BOSTON — AS President Clinton searches for an attorney general nominee, many legal scholars suggest he would do well to appoint someone in the mold of Edward Levi.
Mr. Levi was a former president of the University of Chicago and dean of its law school who took over the Justice Department in the dark days of 1975. With a strong management background and an unquestioned reputation for integrity, Levi worked to restore the department's morale after the Watergate scandal.
"I look back over the years and the only outstanding attorney general I can think of was Ed Levi," says Yale Kamisar, a law professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. "He was a great administrator with a demonstrated ability to run a big organization. That's what you need at Justice." Recent turmoil cited
Some Justice Department-watchers suggest it is all the more imperative to appoint someone of Levi's stature because of the turmoil that has shaken the Justice Department recently.
Not only is there continuing fallout from the Iraqgate scandal, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation is in an uproar because of alleged ethics violations by its director, William Sessions.
President Clinton will reportedly nominate someone for attorney general soon. Among the people reportedly under consid- eration: former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles (D); federal Judge Diana Murphy of Minneapolis; Jamie Gorelick, president of the District of Columbia Bar Association; Los Angeles lawyer Andrea Ordin; and Dade County, Fla., prosecutor Janet Reno.
Whoever is selected, observers warn it is important that Clinton's nominee be impressive enough to erase memories of the miscues in the attorney general search.
"I don't think doing it quickly is as important as doing it right," says Tobe Berkovitz, a Democratic political consultant. "Three strikes and [Clinton] will look mighty foolish." Independence desirable
To win widespread acceptance, the new attorney general should have a fair degree of political independence from the White House, say many Justice Department-watchers.
"The attorney general has to have enough political base and character to stand up to the president," says Vince Blasi, a law professor at Columbia University in New York City. "The Justice Department has a broader constituency than the president's political agenda."
Professor Blasi and other liberal legal scholars charge many of the attorneys general appointed by Presidents Reagan and Bush were guilty of "politicizing" the department by, for example, not pursuing some civil rights cases.
In response, Richard Willard, a former assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, asks: "Was it more political than when the president appointed his own brother as attorney general?" - a reference to the Kennedy administration.
In fact, some experts point out that complete political independence in an attorney general is not necessarily desirable. "It's important to know the president and have his trust," says Alexander Aleinikoff, a law professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. "A complete outsider could have a problem."
Another prime qualification often cited for an attorney general is managerial experience. Because an administrative background is important, some scholars question why the Clinton administration is considering so many judges for the post. "I don't know that a judge has experience in administering an organization as large as the Justice Department," Professor Kamisar says.
Some observers also argue that a law-enforcement background is important for an attorney general. However, Charles Fried, a Harvard Law School professor who was solicitor general in the Reagan administration, says: "Experience is wonderful, but often people with very strong minds can discover what needs to be done - especially if they have good judgment and good help."