Today, Joe Biden Rails Against Legacy Admissions. His Past Casts An Awkward Shadow.

With lackluster grades, Beau Biden landed a competitive job at DOJ while his father was high-ranking member of Judiciary Committee

Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, and Beau Biden in 2009 (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
July 12, 2023

President Joe Biden's late son Beau was once seen as the scion of a political dynasty. A former Department of Justice prosecutor, state attorney general, Bronze Star recipient, and presumptive future governor, Beau Biden's résumé offers a glaring contrast to his brother Hunter's rap sheet.

But Beau Biden's life of public service probably wouldn't have been possible without his father's helping hand, which was so evident in the early years of Beau Biden's professional life that it generated scrutiny from a local Delaware newspaper in 1996. Both Beau Biden and his father were forced to answer questions about how the young lawyer earned a spot in a hyper-competitive Justice Department program that would serve as the springboard for his political career.

Today, the story of how Beau Biden got that job provides an awkward backdrop to his father's rage in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision outlawing affirmative action in higher education: The president has responded not just by attacking the decision and the Court, but also by taking aim at so-called legacy admissions and directing his Department of Education to look at how such practices "hold back" diversity and inclusion on college campuses.

"When a poor kid—maybe the first in their family to go to college—gets the same grades and test scores as a wealthy kid whose whole family has gone to the most elite colleges in the country and whose path has been a lot easier, well, the kid who faced tougher challenges has demonstrated more grit, more determination," President Biden said.

In 1996, Beau Biden was far from the ideal applicant for a prestigious Justice Department job that saw 4,000 applicants for only 163 spots. He graduated with a 2.69 GPA from a third-rate law school, Syracuse University, and his only prior job experience was clerking for a New Hampshire judge—who, coincidentally, served as a New Hampshire co-chairman of Joe Biden's failed 1988 presidential campaign.

Still, the Wilmington, Del., News Journal reported in 1996 that Beau Biden snagged a spot in "an entry-level program for lawyers at the Justice Department." The article does not name the program, but it seems to be the Attorney General's Honors Program, described by the Justice Department as "the nation's premier entry-level federal attorney recruitment program" for "high-caliber attorneys." Beau Biden's father at the time was the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department.

The arrangement raised eyebrows at the News Journal, whose reporters reached out to both Bidens to ask if favoritism played a role in Beau's new job. But the Bidens brushed them off. "I don't see any conflict," Joe Biden responded.

"Why would there be? The Justice Department is a gigantic department and he's qualified. At least they assumed he was," Joe Biden added.

Beau Biden struck a similar note. "Are you trying to say we should have been doctors?" he snapped at a News Journal reporter who pressed him about the fact that his brother, Hunter, was also pursuing a career in law.

After Hunter Biden passed the Connecticut bar exam, he took a job at MBNA, a Delaware-based bank. Months before Hunter Biden started working at MBNA, Joe Biden sold his home to the bank's chief marketing officer for $1.2 million—more than six times what Biden paid 20 years earlier. In 1996, Joe Biden's Republican opponent ran ads slamming the senator for his seemingly cozy relationship with the bank. The press had questions, too.

"Unfortunately, no matter where I went to work, some people would make an issue of it," Hunter Biden told the News Journal, when asked if his father helped him get the job.

With a degree from Yale Law—where he served as editor of the law review—Hunter Biden seemed qualified for the lucrative banking job. But how Hunter Biden ended up at Yale was a different story.

When Hunter Biden first applied to Yale Law School, he did so with the help of a powerful alumnus. In 1993, then-president Bill Clinton called then-Yale Law dean Guido Calabresi and urged him to admit Hunter Biden.

Hunter Biden was not initially admitted to Yale. But Calabresi, one of Clinton's earliest supporters, agreed to meet with the younger Biden, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in 2019. Calabresi suggested that Hunter Biden enroll in a different law school and apply for a transfer after one year.

Hunter Biden took Calabresi's advice and was accepted to Georgetown University, where Clinton had earned his undergraduate degree. After a year he applied for a transfer and was admitted to Yale Law. Shortly thereafter, Calabresi resigned his deanship to serve on the federal judiciary. The man who presided over his confirmation: then-senator Joe Biden. (Calabresi has since denied playing a role in Hunter Biden's admission to Yale Law.)

Both Hunter Biden's and Beau Biden's careers took off in the following years. The latter eventually parlayed his entry-level Justice Department position into a job as a federal prosecutor, followed by a stint as Delaware's attorney general. Beau Biden was widely held to be a shoe-in for the Delaware governor's mansion when he died from cancer in 2015.

As for Hunter, his extravagant lifestyle has been well documented for years. Before his descent into drug addiction, Hunter worked as a lobbyist and an investor, where he regularly took home seven-figure paychecks. His last-known residence was a $5.4 million home in Los Angeles.

A generation later, Joe Biden's view of the favors entitled to his own family members appears unchanged. Another poor student, Biden's granddaughter Maisy, was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania after her grandfather made a phone call to then-university president Amy Gutmann. Gutmann now serves as President Biden's ambassador to Germany.