Susan Webber Wright

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Susan Webber Wright (born 1948), also known as Susan Webber Carter, is a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Wright is also a judge on the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. She received national attention when she first dismissed the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones against President Bill Clinton in 1998, and then, in 1999, found Clinton to be in civil contempt of court.

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Born in Texarkana, Arkansas, Wright received a B.A. from Randolph-Macon Woman's College in 1970 and an M.P.A. from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1973.[1] She received her J.D. from University of Arkansas School of Law in 1975.[1] While there, she was a student of future president Bill Clinton in his course on admiralty law;[2] she later challenged him on her grade. The dispute occurred after Clinton lost all the exams and offered students a B+;[3] Wright had desired an A and after negotiating with Clinton's fiance, Hillary Rodham, Clinton agreed to give Wright an A.[3] A conservative Republican,[2] Wright worked for the reelection campaign of Republican Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt in 1974,[3] who defeated Clinton by 6,000 votes in what was the future president's first run for political office.

Upon graduation, Wright served as a law clerk to J. Smith Henley of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit from 1975 to 1976.[1] She was a member of the faculty of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law from 1976 to 1990,[3] as an assistant professor and assistant dean from 1976 to 1978, associate professor from 1980 to 1983, and full professor from 1983 to 1990. She was a research assistant to the Arkansas Constitutional Convention in 1979, and a visiting professor, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville School of Law in 1980, to the Ohio State University College of Law in 1981, and to the Louisiana State University Law Center from 1982 to 1983.

Federal judicial service[edit]

Recommended by Hammerschimdt,[3] Wright was appointed to both the Eastern District of Arkansas and the Western District of Arkansas by President George H.W. Bush on September 21, 1989, both seats having been vacated by Elsijane Trimble Roy. Wright was confirmed by the United States Senate on January 23, 1990, and received her commission the following day. On December 1, 1990, she was reassigned to serve only on the Eastern District of Arkansas. Wright served as chief judge of that District from 1998 to 2005. She took senior status on August 22, 2013.

Wright also presided over Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton. The claims were based on activity alleged to have taken place when Clinton was Governor of Arkansas and Jones worked in his office. Wright refused to grant Clinton absolute presidential immunity against the lawsuit, but nonetheless ruled that a sitting president could not be sued and deferred his trial until after his presidential term was over;[4] The ruling to keep Jones from suing Clinton, while he was still president, was overturned by the Eighth Circuit.[2] Clinton then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider Wright's ruling.[2] In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, thus allowing Jones' suit to go to trial while Clinton was still in office.[5]

On April 1, 1998, Wright granted summary judgment to Clinton in a 39-page ruling that expressed exasperation with both Jones and her lawyers, and stated that she believed the case to be without legal merit.[6] Jones' appeal to the Eighth Circuit was dismissed when Clinton settled with her out of court.

On April 12, 1999, Wright issued a history-making[7][8] order finding Bill Clinton to be in civil contempt of court. Describing Clinton's conduct repeatedly as "contumacious," Webber wrote: "The record demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the President responded to plaintiff [Paula Jones]'s questions by giving false, misleading, and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process... It is difficult to construe the President's sworn statements in this civil lawsuit concerning his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky as anything other than a willful refusal to obey this court's discovery orders.... Simply put, the President's deposition testimony regarding whether he had ever been alone with Ms. Lewinsky was intentionally false, and his statements regarding whether he had ever engaged in sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky likewise were intentionally false, notwithstanding tortured definitions and interpretations of the term 'sexual relations'."[9]

Wright was also involved with Kenneth Starr's investigation of the Whitewater scandal, and issued numerous rulings that were both favorable and unfavorable to Clinton.[2] Notably, Wright imprisoned Susan McDougal for the maximum 18 months for civil contempt of court when McDougal refused to answer "three questions" about whether President Bill Clinton lied in his testimony.[10]

Wright was appointed to a seven-year term on the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by Chief Justice John Roberts. She was appointed on May 18, 2009, with her term expiring on May 18, 2016.[11] Wright is one of the judges on the FISA court.[12]

Personal life[edit]

In 1983,[13] Wright married Robert R. Wright III, law professor and co-founder of The University of Arkansas at Little Rock's law school.[14] Together Robert and Susan had a daughter, Robin.[13] On June 4, 2006, Robert R. Wright III, aged 74, died.[14]



External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Elsijane Trimble Roy
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas
Succeeded by
seat abolished
Preceded by
Elsijane Trimble Roy
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas
Succeeded by
James Maxwell Moody, Jr.