By ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court on Monday suspended former President Clinton from practicing law before the high court and gave him 40 days to say why he should not be permanently disbarred there.
A Clinton lawyer said the ex-president will argue that disbarment before the high court is inappropriate.
The order likely means Clinton could not argue a case before the high court should he ever return to private law practice. Most lawyers who are admitted to the Supreme Court bar never actually argue a case there, but the right to do so is considered an honor.
The court did not explain its reasons, but Supreme Court disbarment often follows disbarment in lower courts. The court acted after it was notified by the Arkansas Supreme Court that Clinton's Arkansas law license was suspended for five years and he paid a $25,000 fine. The Arkansas suspension took effect in April.
Clinton agreed to the Arkansas fine and suspension Jan. 19, the day before he left office, as part of an understanding with Independent Counsel Robert Ray to end the Monica Lewinsky investigation.
The agreement also satisfied the legal effort by the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct to disbar Clinton for giving misleading testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.
The Supreme Court followed its standard rules in the Clinton case, which include suspending Clinton from practice in the court and giving him 40 days to show why he should not be permanently disbarred.
The court order did not mention any vote by the justices. Seventeen other lawyers were similarly disciplined.
"Whenever a member of the bar of this court has been disbarred or suspended from practice of any court of record, or has engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the bar of this court, the court will enter an order suspending that member from practice before this court," Supreme Court rules say.
"This suspension is simply a consequence of the voluntary settlement entered into last January with the Arkansas Bar," said Clinton lawyer David E. Kendall. "Pursuant to the Supreme Court's order, we will show cause why disbarment is not appropriate."
Clinton was traveling Monday, en route to speaking engagements in Los Angeles after helping daughter Chelsea move into her student quarters at Oxford University in Oxford, England.
Clinton is a native of Arkansas and was governor there before he was elected president in 1992. He moved to New York after he left office but has not applied to practice law there.
Should Clinton apply, said Frank Ciervo, a spokesman for the New York State Bar Association, the Arkansas suspension would be honored.
"In this case, justice delayed is justice applied," said Mark R. Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation. "Hopefully, this will help restore the public's faith in the judicial system." The conservative group asked a federal judge to hold Clinton in contempt of court in 1998 for his statements in the Jones deposition.
Clinton and the Whitewater prosecutor, Ray, worked out their deal late last year.
Ray promised not to prosecute the president when he left office if Clinton, in return, would agree to the suspension of his Arkansas law license for a substantial period, lawyers familiar with the meeting said then.
The White House meeting between Clinton and Ray touched off three weeks of negotiations that stretched to Arkansas and eventually led to the deal that spared Clinton the prospect of indictment.
While the duration of the suspension was longer than Clinton wanted, the committee had precedent on its side.
A tangential Whitewater figure and former state representative both recently lost their law licenses for five years. The ex-legislator, Jimmie Wilson, was one of the 140 p