Public figures are fair game as long as no malicious intent to defame, libel, or slander them is published, and by published in the law that means conveyed to another party, vocally or in writing. For more details, Wikipedia has a comprehensive article under Defamation about what is and what is not actionable.
Posts: 2814 | Registered: Jun 2008
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You can use them so long as they're not "in" the story. Further away, say when they're long dead, you can use them outright. (At least in the USA.)
I'm a little leery of novels that have a whole bunch of real people as characters. It seems a lot of them wind up saying and doing things that, I think, they wouldn't ever have said or done. (This can get really bad in alternate history---a dubious enterprise at best---where the characters often wind up in situations where they would never go.)
quote:"Sally had voted for Bill Clinton the last time"
Remember that references to real people, especially politicians, may date your story. If your story were to survive ten years, young readers may wonder what Sally's voting for Bill Clinton is supposed to mean.