Remarks to the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies

 

September 9, 1988

 

Thank you all very much, and thank you, Ken. And a special thank you, as well, to your national cochairmen, Steve Calabresi, David McIntosh, and Lee Liberman.

 

Before I begin my remarks, let me say that, as some of you may know, today is Ken Cribb's last day in our administration. Liberals all around town are breaking out the champagne. [Laughter] But I can't think of any better place than the Federalist Society to say, ``Ken, thank you, Godspeed, and God bless you.''

 

How far we've come these last 8 years, not only in transforming the operations of government, not only in transforming the Departments and agencies and even the Federal judiciary, but also in changing the terms of national debate. And nowhere is that change more evident than in the rise of the Federalist Society on the campuses of America's law schools. To think of it, in schools where just a few years ago the critical legal studies movement stood virtually unchallenged, like some misplaced monster of prehistoric radicalism -- [laughter] -- today you are vexing the dogmatists of the left.

 

The Federalist Society is changing the culture of our nation's law schools. You are returning the values and concepts of law as our founders understood them to scholarly dialog and, through that dialog, to our legal institutions. Yes, you are insisting that the Constitution is not some elaborate ink-blot test in which liberals can find prescribed policies that the people have rejected. You're fighting for renewed respect for the integrity of our Constitution, for its fundamental principles, and for its wisdom. And in this, of course, you've had multitudes of friends and supporters in our administration, and that includes a certain tenant of a nearby unit of public housing. [Laughter]

 

Yes, how far we've come since our administration arrived in Washington almost 8 years ago. Those we replaced and most of the jurists they appointed had a very different view of the law from ours. They, and the liberal elite they spoke for, believed that judges should be free to reinterpret the Constitution with few fetters on them because the Constitution mustn't remain, as one of their allies and our critics has put it, ``frozen in ancient error because it is so hard to amend.'' Well, we replied that the principal errors of recent times had nothing to do with the shortcomings of the Founding Fathers. They had to do with courts that played fast and loose with the instrument the Founding Fathers devised. Yes, some law professors and judges said the courts should save the country from the Constitution. We said it was time to save the Constitution from them.

 

We pointed, in particular, to a bizarre twisting of values that had crept into our criminal law, to the confusing of criminals and victims, to an attitude that the law was not a vehicle for uncovering truth and administering justice but a game in which clever lawyers tried to trip up the police on the rules.

 

We said that we intended to nominate judges and justices who didn't share the skepticism of our extreme liberal friends about the fundamental values that underpin our laws and our society. We would select judges who would reaffirm the core beliefs of our free land. And we have. You know the names on the court criers list, including Rehnquist and O'Connor and Scalia, Kennedy, and of course, Judge Robert Bork.

 

Well, already we can see the new realism that these and so many others have brought to our courts. I'm happy to report that as more and more of our appointees have served, Federal courts have become tougher and tougher on criminals. The average Federal prison sentence grew by almost a third from 1980 to 1986. And what's more, as our judges by argument and example reversed longstanding attitudes about crime and criminals that prevailed in both Federal and State courts, we also started to see crime rates drop. Between 1980 and 1987, the overall crime rate fell by nearly 7 percent, while nearly 2 million fewer households were hit by crime in 1987 than in 1980.

 

Yet these statistics, heartening as they are, reflect only the surface of the changes of the last 8 years, changes that have extended out beyond the judiciary into every aspect of law enforcement on the Federal and even State level. Eight years ago, even the idea of a war on drugs was greeted with amused smiles in this smug capital. The last liberal administration had started to lose interest in narcotics cases all together. Each year they brought fewer cases to trial, and by their last year in office, convictions were down by half. We changed that. We hired more than 4,000 new agents and prosecutors, and under the Vice President's leadership, Federal, State and local law enforcement officials started working together to stop the smuggling of illegal drugs into our nation.

 

Still, some failed to take our emphasis on crime seriously. Their friends in Congress held up our reforms of the Federal Criminal Code for years. And more recently, they cut funding for the Coast Guard -- among the most important agencies in our battle against the international drug rings -- and gave the money to Amtrak. [Laughter] You know, I keep wondering about the liberals. [Laughter] Will they ever learn the difference between special interests and the national interest?

 

While others have talked about beating back the drug lords, we've delivered. During our administration, drug convictions have nearly tripled and have included such notorious kingpins as Juan Ramon Matta, while cocaine seizures are up over 1,800 percent. And for the first time we are, thanks to the legal reforms I mentioned, seizing assets that have been acquired with drug money. Some time back I visited Florida. I was told of the dozens of boats and planes that we had confiscated from drug dealers. And on a table I saw for the first time in my life what $20 million looks like. It had been seized from the drug rings, too, and it was stacked up on that table.

 

The liberals have scoffed when I've said we're winning the war on drugs. But since we came to office, thanks to the work of a certain lovely lady, Americans, and particularly young people, have heard our plea and are just saying no to drugs. I might inject right here, if I could, that that ``Just say no'' came from Nancy's answer to a student's question in a schoolroom. She was speaking to the students, and a little girl said, ``Well, what do you say when someone offers you drugs?'' And Nancy said, ``Just say no.'' Well, today there are over 12,000 Just Say No clubs in the schools of America. And among high school seniors, for example, the overall number of illegal drug users has dropped; and in fact, the number using cocaine dropped an unprecedented 20 percent last year. So long as anyone uses drugs, the number will be too high. Still, we've made enormous progress.

 

Are we hurting the drug rings? Well, the drug lords may have answered that question themselves a few weeks ago with an assassination attempt on the Secretary of State. There were reports that the attempt was linked directly to the drug trade, and if true, this desperate move is a clear sign of the toll we're taking. But we're not satisfied. We're proposing to step up the pressure to make convicted drug kingpins subject to the death penalty.

 

And let me offer here my thanks and congratulations to the House of Representatives. Yesterday a broad bipartisan coalition passed the Gekas amendment, providing for the death penalty against those who commit murder in the course of a drug felony; the McCollum amendment, denying Federal benefits to those convicted of certain drug crimes; and the Lungren amendment, allowing a good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. These provisions, if they also pass the Senate, will represent a giant step forward in the war on drugs and an achievement of things we have long sought.

 

And yet, as at other junctures in the war on drugs, once again too many liberals oppose us. But now they turn around and charge that we're running a phony war on drugs. Well, I have a hunch that in November the American people will decide who's bogus and who's for real.

 

The Senate could help us in this and our other battles against crime by bestirring itself and acting on the 28 judicial nominations that we have submitted, but that have not yet been confirmed. The Senate's inaction has become a matter of such serious concern that recently the judicial conference declared a state of judicial emergency in various districts and circuits -- too many courts are too far under strength. This is not politics as usual. In 1980 only 17 nominations had not been acted on by the end of the year, and of these, all but 5 had been nominated on or after the end of July. Some of our nominees have been waiting for a year.

 

For example, Pamela Rymer, who has already proven herself to have a thorough understanding of the problems of crime and the criminal justice system as a district court judge, has been waiting for Senate approval as an appeals court judge since April, even though she received the ABA's highest rating of competence.

 

Another impressive nominee is Judith Richards -- Hope, I should say -- I stopped on the middle name -- Judith Richards Hope for the DC Circuit. Mrs. Hope, among the most prominent of lawyers in this country, has also been waiting for a confirmation hearing since April. In contrast, in 1980 Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated by my predecessor to the same court on April 14th, 8 years to the day before Mrs. Hope's nomination, and was confirmed scarcely 2 months later. Despite Mrs. Hope's favorable rating from the ABA and well-recognized legal abilities, she continues to wait.

 

I don't need to tell anyone here the principal reason for the delays. The liberals may talk about crime and drugs, but the thing that they care about is their agenda and protecting, as best they can, the one branch of government where their agenda has clearly held sway.

 

The liberals are hoping that within a few weeks the American people will, as the liberals see it, regain their senses and return the Nation to the hands of those who once gave it double-digit inflation, plummeting real family income, economic stagnation, international setbacks, and lectures on malaise -- [laughter] -- or, as the liberals put it, return the nation to those who stand not for ideology but for competence. [Laughter]

 

Yes, they're hoping that within a few months they can wipe the slate clean and nominate judges who reflect their values and vision of the law. For us conservatives, the task must be to pin down just what that vision and those values are, which is not necessarily an easy task in a time when liberalism has become the masked marvel of American political discourse. [Laughter] And while we're asking questions about the liberal agenda, we must be forthright about our own: a decent respect not just for the rights of criminals but for those of the victims of crime, a respect for the real world in which the police work day to day, and an end to the kind of fanciful readings of the Constitution that produce such decisions as Roe versus Wade.

 

So, this is my message to you today: to hold the torch high, to stay in the battle. Too much is left to do. The battle is far from over. And all is yet to win or lose. But we stand with the founders of our nation in this ongoing struggle to protect our freedom. Thomas Jefferson reminded us that ``Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution.'' And he implored, ``Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.'' For as James Madison wrote, if ``. . . the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the Nation is not the guide to expounding it . . . there can be no security for a faithful exercise of its powers.'' It was true then. It is true now. It will be true always.

 

And just this morning -- I have to add something in here, a little experience -- I received word of one of our drug agents. He was sitting in a car. He was actually providing protection to a home where the people in that home had been threatened -- their lives threatened because of their work against drugs. He was shot. And just before coming over here I made a telephone call to the hospital. The bullet entered through the chin and came out from the forehead, very close to the eye. And the voice on the phone in the hospital room turned out to be his father's, because he cannot speak. It will probably be a year of continued surgery before he is able to come back among us. And he told me that his son couldn't speak but could hear. So, he said, ``I will hold the phone to his ear. And when you hear the tapping, that will mean he's on and listening.''

 

And so, I was able to tell him of our pride in him and how much we appreciated his great sacrifice and all and how much he would be in our prayers as the time went on until he is healed, and then said goodbye. And again he tapped on the phone with his finger to let me know that he had heard. And his father came on, and I said goodbye to him. And his father then said he had just been handed a slip of paper by his son. He said his son was thanking me for the call.

 

Well, this morning, earlier, I had read some of the statements by the opposition Congressmen to this death penalty amendment that was passed yesterday and that I mentioned earlier. And I heard their sheer horror at the idea that we should be taking someone's life or just killing someone else in connection with drugs. And I've been thinking about that ever since this telephone call. I'd like to engage some of them in personal confrontation. In fact, I'll go out of my way to do it.

 

Well, I want to thank you all not only for your warm welcome but thank you for what you are doing. And God bless you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:38 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel. In his opening remarks, he referred to T. Kenneth Cribb, Jr., Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs.