Meese Active in Opposition to Sotomayor
By Jerry Markon
Ed Meese is at it again.
The Reagan-era attorney general, beloved by conservatives but long reviled by many liberals, is playing an important behind-the-scenes role in coordinating opposition to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
From his perch at the conservative Heritage Foundation, the 77-year-old Edwin Meese III has been meeting with a network of right-of-center lawyers, buttonholing Republican senators and preaching the same message he’s been delivering since the 1980s: judges should follow the Constitution and not push a liberal agenda from the bench.
“He’s been very influential in his meetings on Capitol Hill and behind-the-scenes working with leading legal lights,’’ said Gary Marx, executive director of the Judicial Confirmation Network, which has been echoing Meese’s message with regular public blasts against Sotomayor.
“All of us feel like we stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before us, and clearly Meese is one of those giants and a conservative icon,’’ Marx added.
Marge Baker, executive vice president of the liberal People for the American Way, has a different view of Meese’s enduring influence.
“It’s incredibly telling that the man behind Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia is shaping the current Republican strategy,’’ Baker said. “It’s illustrative of how the GOP has spent the past 25 years: trying to pack the federal judiciary with right wing activist judges.’’
With Obama’s election and Democratic control of Congress, Baker said, “the whole Meese framework is tired, old and discredited.’’
Meese, who was a longtime confidante of President Ronald Reagan, has been battling the political left over judicial philosophy ever since his controversial 1985 speech to the American Bar Association.
Still new as attorney general, he blasted what he saw as judicial activism by the Supreme Court and said the “original intention” of the Constitution and statutes should be the “only reliable guide” for judges.
The remarks drew virtually unprecedented criticism from two Supreme Court justices – including John Paul Stevens, still a leading liberal justice – and outraged the left, even as they galvanized conservatives.
Liberal groups raised millions of dollars merely by invoking Meese’s name, and as recently as 2006, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was citing the specter of Meese to rally opposition to Samuel A. Alito, President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee.
The former attorney general began meeting with Republican senators and sending them letters about a potential Supreme Court vacancy months before Sotomayor was even nominated, said a Republican Senate source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings were private. Those sessions have continued in recent weeks.
“He had the instincts that in this environment, with the Republicans a small minority, and a currently popular Democratic President, we needed a real focus on judicial selection,’’ the source said. “Some folks come out of the woodwork when there is a Supreme Court vacancy and grab their 15 minutes of fame. Ed isn’t like that, never has been, and that’s why he is of such value.’’
Meese, who advised the Bush White House on Supreme Court nominations, has emerged publicly with brief statements that helped craft the conservative message. As soon as Justice David H. Souter’s pending retirement was announced, he called on Obama to nominate “a justice who will fully obey his or her oath to preserve the Constitution, someone with a proven fidelity to the original meaning of the Constitution and laws as written.’’
Sotomayor’s nomination prompted Meese to immediately urge Senators to ensure that “Judge Sotomayor would not use her seat on the Supreme Court to advance liberal policy preferences, rather than applying the Constitution as it is written.’’
Jim Weidman, a spokesman for the Heritage Foundation -- where Meese became the first Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in 1988 and still chairs the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies – said the former attorney general was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
“This is a crucial moment in the time of the Supreme Court, and he’s still very vigorous and engaged on this,’’ Weidman said. “He’s definitely in there swinging.’’
June 18, 2009; 12:19 PM ET
Categories: Supreme Court
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