William (“Bill”) Schultz’s oral history (12 interviews) is available on the website of the Historical Society (www.dcchs.org). Bill is a “triple-threat back,” excelling as a non-profit advocate in Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen Litigation Group (1976-1990); serving at high levels in the Executive and Legislative Branches (Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Food and Drug Administration and Henry Waxman’s House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment) (1990-2000, 2011-16); and, when not in government, practicing health law as a partner in the Zuckerman Spaeder firm (2001-11, 2016 to present).
This history is a must-read. No summary can do it justice.
Bill was born in 1948 in Bloomington, Indiana, where his father was a law professor. Early on, the family moved to the Washington, D.C., suburb Hollin Hills. Bill was strong academically and athletically, winning trophies in debating and tennis. He attended Yale College during a “stressful time”:
There was a demonstration against the invasion of Cambodia… There were concerns about violence, and all the stores were boarded up… At the same time, the trial of Bobby Seale, a Black Panther accused of murdering a colleague, was scheduled in New Haven. So, debates about the Viet Nam War were mixed in with debates about whether Bobby Seale could get a fair trial as a Black man… Yale partially closed the college down, and the Administration determined that all classes would be voluntary.
Yale opened my eyes to politics. I left Yale with a strong desire to do something in the public interest. I had no idea what it was going to be.
Bill attended the University of Virginia Law School where tuition was “$630 a year [and] they gave me a $500 scholarship.”
On graduation in 1974, Bill clerked for U.S. District Judge William B. Bryant. Bill provides an intimate portrait of this “spectacular judge,” for whom the D.C. Federal Courthouse Annex is named, and passes along a few of Bryant’s sayings:
• Whenever you try to put too much English on the ball, you miscue.
• You know what they say in the Civil Division, the Justice Department has lost the case when the court gets to the merits.
• The greatest crimes known to mankind are committed in the name of God, patriotism, and justice, in that order.
In January 1976, Bill began a 14-year stint as a litigating attorney in Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen Litigation Group. Bill describes in depth Nader and his team of pro bono pathbreakers:
Nader “started modern-day public interest law and figured out that the public interest lawyer’s role wasn’t just litigating but also lobbying, working with the press, and so on.”
Evaluating his experience at Public Citizen, Bill gives a full account of his first – and losing – Supreme Court argument in Duke Power Company v. Carolina Environmental Study Group, a case raising standing and liability issues respecting a nuclear power plant and tells of organizing opposition to the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. While at Public Citizen, Bill brought cases on highway safety, voting rights and numerous cases against the Food and Drug Administration.
In 1990, Bill moved from Public Citizen to become Staff Counsel to the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment chaired by Representative Henry Waxman, which had broad jurisdiction over the Food and Drug Administration, Medicare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, and many of the public health agencies. Bill describes this “exciting job” shepherding progressive bills that became the Nutrition Labeling Act, Prescription Drug Users Fee Act, Medical Devices Amendments Act, and Orphan Drug Amendments Act. “Henry Waxman’s management style … was to give his staff enormous responsibility and always to back them up.”
Among many assignments, Bill tells of managing the Subcommittee’s hearings on the tobacco industry during a period when “Tobacco was killing 500,000 people in the United States.”
In 1994, Bill left the “Hill” to become Deputy FDA Commissioner for Policy with direct responsibility for the Agency’s decision to declare jurisdiction over tobacco, an issue that was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.
Starting at the beginning of 1999, Bill served for two years as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in charge of all civil appellate litigation. He also headed up the Justice Department’s Tobacco Litigation team seeking to recover the money the federal government had spent in the Medicaid and Medicare programs on tobacco-related health care and prosecuting tobacco companies for conspiracy to defraud the public in violation of the RICO statute.
In December 2000, with President Clinton leaving office, Bill left government. He developed a practice in the generic drug area and “was able to do a good dose of public interest work, some of it paid and some of it pro bono.” The history includes an evaluation by Bill of his experience working in the government with his experience in private practice.
Bill returned to government in March 2011, first as Acting General Counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services and then as General Counsel, a presidential appointment. He tells of his many responsibilities for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, including implementation of the Affordable Care Act and his role in defending challenges to its constitutionality.
With the election of President Trump, Bill returned to Zuckerman. Asked what was his most important contribution during his time in government, he said:
One would have to be tobacco… We ended up getting legislation that set up a tobacco program at FDA that … will control the kinds of claims that can be made on tobacco as to whether a product is safe or whether it is beneficial in some way… Second would have to be the Affordable Care Act, which is so important to healthcare and which I had a role in implementing and defending. I think that the Nutrition Labeling Act is somewhere up there. It’s hard to believe but, 30 years ago when you bought food, there was no labeling and no way to know how many calories were in it or how much salt.
Bill is married to Washington Post investigative reporter Sari Horwitz. They have a daughter Rachael, who is a couples and individual psychotherapist.
The interviews that comprise this oral history were conducted in 2021-2022 by Stephen J. Pollak, who prepared this summary based on those interviews.