In the spring of 1987, President Ronald Reagan was facing a storm of criticism for his belated response to the AIDS epidemic. In response, the White House had decided to form a presidential commission on AIDS, and a draft of an executive order establishing the group was circulating among the president’s staff.

Peter Keisler, then a 26-year-old lawyer in the White House, took issue with one particular part of the draft calling for members of the AIDS commission to be “distinguished individuals who have extensive experience in the fields of medicine, epidemiology, virology, law and medicine, public health, and related disciplines.”

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