President Bush received harsh criticism last year for raising tariffs on steel. But before he acted, the decision was likely backed up with advice from a good lawyer, says Richard Morningstar ’70, an ambassador in the Clinton Administration. Morningstar, who was the Herman Phleger Visiting Professor of Law, taught courses on international law, policy, and trade last fall, and delivered the annual Phleger lecture on December 4. In his remarks, Morningstar explained that if Bush received advice from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, it undoubtedly went beyond trade law. Zoellick, whom Morningstar calls a brilliant lawyer, likely considered political ramifications, as well as potential sanctions from the World Trade Organization. 

Morningstar notes that this sort of advice is a good example of “the three dimensional practice of law,” a critical way for attorneys in policy-making positions to approach problems. It boils down to a basic lesson he learned at the Law School: “The relationship between interested parties is often more important than the black letter of the law,” he says. Morningstar served as Ambassador to the European Union and as an advisor to President Clinton on the Caspian Basin and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union. He believes in international law, but he warns that it is very “fuzzy.” For instance, he notes that it’s unclear whether the tariff hikes were in accord with the law. 

Morningstar says that any good lawyer offering advice on that issue would consider that steelworkers in West Virginia, a critical Bush constituency in the 2002 election, would be furious if tariffs were not raised. In turn, any possible WTO sanctions would not emerge for a while. Also, the European Union would be angry, but its outrage could probably be managed. “Shouldn’t a lawyer be restricted to analyzing the law?” Morningstar asks rhetorically. He warns against taking a narrow view. “If you don’t understand the full context, you can actually be counterproductive.”