Judge Clark has died at his California ranch. Steve Hayward tells his story very well, as is his wont. I was not an intimate, but I always got a hearing from him when I requested it, and as Steve says, he was a real gentleman with a unique strength: he didn’t really want to be in government, and he really didn’t care who got credit for success. He was a real friend to Reagan and a great treasure to the nation.
I think the essence of the man was manifest fairly early on. He was deputy secretary of state to Haig, who faced a nasty decision: Israel had asked for the extradition of a Palestinian killer who was in an American jail. The case was very contentious, and it was clear that if we agreed to the Israeli request, there was a real chance of attempts at revenge. Haig asked Clark, who was, after all, a magistrate, to evaluate the merits of the case.
Clark waited until Haig was out of the country, which made the judge “acting secretary of state.” And then he quietly ruled that the terrorist should be extradited. That meant he assumed full responsibility. Anyone wanting to avenge the decision would have to target him, Judge Clark.
That was a real profile in courage, which was rarely noted either then or afterwards. For me it defined Judge Clark. A rare man, a brave and gentle man, a hero. That he was so ferociously challenged by some of the others is a reminder of the pettiness that is so common in political life, and of the jealousy that true greatness so often provokes.