Remarks to Administration Supporters on Child Pornography and the Supreme Court Nomination of Anthony M. Kennedy

 

December 4, 1987

 

Thank you all very much, and welcome to the White House complex. White House complex -- that's what they call these buildings. Makes you wonder, can't anything in Washington ever be simple? [Laughter]

 

Seeing all of you here today is a particular pleasure for me, because together you speak for some of the causes that are closest to my heart, some of the most important reasons our administration came to Washington in the first place.

 

Some of you are law enforcement officers. Some are civilians who work for victims' rights. Some are fighting obscenity and the unspeakable evil of child pornography. Others are working to prevent drug abuse. In the past 4 or 5 months, I've heard a lot of talk -- much of it, to put it most kindly, inaccurate -- about our social agenda, particularly as it applies to the courts. Well, if anyone wants to know our true agenda, there's no need to go any farther than this room, because your agenda is our agenda.

 

I don't need to tell anyone here the sad, often tragic story of years of judicial solicitation for every conceivable right of criminals and neglect for the victims of crime, of playing fast and loose with first amendment rights in a way that gave too many pornographers free rein, of fanciful constitutional arguments used to throw out long and hard police work, and of the price our nation has paid for all of this.

 

One way, for example, that we've paid that price has been in the wider and wider availability of pornography. The sale of pornography was once said to be victimless. But common sense should have told us all along that pornography has many victims -- among them, children. I read a statistic recently that, in a single day, one dial-a-porn company has received 800,000 calls. I'm told that the great proportion of those calls are thought to have been made by children. There's nothing victimless about those children. The time has come for this to stop.

 

Let me mention here -- and I've recently sent Congress a bill that will make it easier for law enforcement officials to fight obscenity and child pornography. But incredible as it may seem, there are well-meaning people who will oppose it. The most extreme say that the first amendment protects child pornographers as they publish and distribute their products. However well-intended, that kind of extremism should not be allowed to prevail. It's not what the Constitution requires. I hope I can count on your support in getting this bill enacted into law. [Applause] I should have known you'd feel that way. [Laughter] By the way, we could also use a boost with our criminal justice reform legislation.

 

I hope I can count on your support on something else as well, and it's the principal reason that we're here today. I have nominated a judge to the Supreme Court who is realistic about pornography and crime in general: Judge Anthony M. Kennedy.

 

Judge Kennedy has been on my short list from the very start. A graduate of Stanford University and the Harvard Law School, he has served 12 years on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. There he won the respect of his fellow jurists and the lawyers who practice before that court. He participated in over 1,400 decisions and wrote more than 400 opinions. He earned the reputation for being a balanced and fair judge and one who is tough on crime and concerned about the victims of crime. As he said earlier this year: Victims' ``dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system represents a failure of the system to achieve its goals.'' And then he added: ``The significant criminal law decisions of the Warren Court focused on the relation of the accused to the state, and the police as an instrument of the state. Little or no thought was given to the position of the victims.'' Well, that's a note of compassion and realism that is too often missing in our courts.

 

Realism runs through all his work on the bench. He argued in one dissent, for example, for a ``good faith'' exception to the exclusionary rule, and saw his position ultimately adopted by the Supreme Court. That was in a drug case, by the way. And for realism about police work, the opinion he wrote in that case sets a high standard. He said, and I'll quote again: ``You don't have to read many cases involving illegal drug traffic before it becomes clear exactly what was going on at the residences described by the officer's affidavit.'' And he concluded: ``Whatever the merits of the exclusionary rule, its rigidities become compounded unacceptably when courts presume innocent conduct when the only commonsense explanation for it is ongoing criminal activity.''

 

Another example of his realism -- last year Judge Kennedy upheld a lower court when it imposed the maximum sentence allowed by law against a child pornographer. His opinion focused on the severe psychological harm victims of child pornography endure and the great likelihood that child pornographers will, when released, commit the same crimes again. We need more realism like that on the Nation's highest court. We need Judge Kennedy on our highest court.

 

But let me add another thought here. Being tough on crime doesn't require tortured constitutional reasoning. The Constitution itself is tough on crime; it was intended to ``establish justice'' and ``ensure domestic tranquility.'' It provides a system for discovering the truth, releasing the innocent, and punishing the guilty, not for subjecting the police to an endless guessing game about the rules.

 

Not long ago, I heard about a case that involved a particularly horrible murder and that illustrates just what's too often wrong in our courts. A man threw his girlfriend's 10-month-old child down the trash chute of her 11-story apartment building. He was arrested, tried, and convicted. But the conviction was thrown out on appeal. Citing heavily from U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the State appeals court decided that the man had been denied equal justice under the law, because he was not taken before a court commissioner within 24 hours of arrest. No, he was taken 24 hours and 12 minutes after arrest. So, he's out walking the streets now. We've had enough decisions like that. The Supreme Court sets the tone for all courts in our land, as well as establishing precedence in the Federal judiciary. I hope we'll have your active support as the Senate deliberates on confirming Judge Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court.

 

And now, I know you've heard a number of people, and you've heard enough from me. So, thank you, and God bless you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:04 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.