The First Lady is asked by her husband to head a task force to assist him in developing health care policy. The fear of outside influence sparks the task force to meet in secrecy. The Federal Advisory Committee Act, however, forbids closed meetings of this type unless all members of the committee are officers or employees of the federal government. May the meetings be kept secret despite the First Lady's presence?
Immediately after leaving the White House, the First Lady is hired to lobby for Columbia/HCA, a major health care corporation. Illegal?
The chairman of a large corporation meets with the First Lady. In the course of their discussions, he hands her a briefcase stacked with cash, winks, and asks for her commitment to reducing corporate taxes. Does federal law prohibit this?
The First Lady decides not to give up her successful career as head of a large oil company. May she continue to involve herself with White House policies?
The President, angry over public criticism by his wife, decides to "fire" her from her position as First Lady. May he name someone else for the job?,
The answers to these questions depend on a clear definition of the role of the First Lady in government. Such a definition is, however, lacking in federal law. The First Lady's authority and account- ability have yet to be seriously analyzed. Undoubtedly, the president's wife exerts, at the very least, a behind-the-scenes influence over her husband outside the practical operation of law. History is replete with examples of powerful wives who have wielded an influence that only one spouse can have over another. Although the First Lady's role has been the subject of dinner-table conversation for over 200 years, the actions of the Clinton Administration and the role of Hillary Clinton have brought this debate to the fore.
The difficult task of defining the role of the First Lady in legal, rather than historical or political terms, requires an immersion into the murky waters of congressional intent and statutory interpretation. This Note posits that although a First Lady inherits a deep- rooted tradition of influence in politics, she cannot be considered a federal officer or employee for purposes of the Federal Advisory Committee Act ('FACA") or anti-nepotism laws, but may be a "public official" for purposes of conflict-of-interest laws. Part II of this Note discusses Hillary Clinton's deep involvement in her husband's Administration and her appointment to head the President's Task Force on Health Care Reform. This appointment has sparked a judicial attempt to define, for the first time in our nation's history, the role of the First Lady in government. Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Inc. v. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in which the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that the First Lady is a de facto officer or employee of the federal government, lays the groundwork for this discussion. Hillary Clinton's open and active role in the Clinton Administration has raised novel questions about the role of presidential spouses. Part III addresses the historical importance of the First Lady, crucial to understanding the vastness of her influence, and then analyzes the statutes and cases focusing on whether the First Lady is, or is not, a government officer or employee. Part IV discusses the ramifications of the First Lady's legal role, specifically concentrating on federal conflict-of-interest laws. The Conclusion emphasizes the need for Congressional action to resolve the issues raised in this Note.
Carl D. Wasserman,
Firing the First Lady: The Role and Accountability of the Presidential Spouse,
48 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol48/iss4/10