- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

It’s a good time to honor Edwin Meese, although to some, this may sound curious.

True, the nation’s 75th U.S. attorney general concluded his most high-profile government service shortly before the departure from the White House of his great friend Ronald Reagan more than 20 years ago.

During the last two decades, he has focused his not-visibly-diminished energies on ever-wider realms of service - volunteering a lifetime of wisdom hard-won on the turbulent front lines of American law and politics to the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution and countless boards, corporations, nonprofits, universities and government leaders all over the world.

His full life has drawn its harshest criticism from those who have never shared a dominant conviction of Mr. Meese’s very public career: that our U.S. Constitution is a one-of-a-remarkable-kind composition, written by men who thoroughly understood not only the hard political realities of their own time, but also the timeless truths of effective government, the vitality (and vulnerabilities) of freedom, and the essential soul of the American people.

Mr. Meese, in other words, is an “originalist”: a lawyer and constitutional scholar who believes - in the phrasing of Chief Justice John Marshall - that the document on which all American law and jurisprudence is grounded has, from its creation, said what it meant and meant what it said.

That’s an increasingly unpopular view among those who hold dear the delusion that our laws and our Constitution, like situational ethics, can be trimmed to fit the ever-changing political sensibilities of individual circumstances, a given case, an ever-vacillating culture.

Nor is it the view of many in the current administration, whose namesake has repeatedly referenced his own qualms with the document and who will soon give weight to his views as he appoints Justice David H. Souter’s replacement on the Supreme Court.

But then Mr. Meese is used to defending his views against formidable opposition. In 1985, the still-new attorney general, in a landmark speech before the American Bar Association, called for a “jurisprudence of original intent,” criticizing judicial activism in terms so blunt that his remarks drew an all-but-unprecedented public response from two sitting Supreme Court justices, William J. Brennan Jr. and John Paul Stevens.

That speech drew the legal line in the sand that has increasingly bisected American jurisprudence for the last quarter of a century, dividing jurists, attorneys, professors, law students, legal journalists and philosophers.

Many have dismissed “originalism” as an effort to impose 18th-century values on 21st-century Americans. But Mr. Meese has always recognized those enduring, eternal values as the moral truth and legal bedrock on which the republic was built.

He recognized early on the aggressive efforts of the so-called “progressives” to rewrite the Constitution in ways calculated to crack that bedrock by dynamiting centuries-old understandings of life, marriage, family and the rule of law, and by undermining the crucial freedoms of the Bill of Rights, especially religious liberty. In response, his unflinching words and example sparked the dramatic growth of what has come to be known as the “freedom-based” legal defense movement: a loose alliance of key individuals and organizations nationwide who may differ on many other things but who share Mr. Meese’s commitment to originalism.

One of those organizations is the Alliance Defense Fund, which for more than 15 years has been fighting the insidious threat to our liberty that Mr. Meese did so much to expose. It’s a threat epitomized not just by activists on the public payroll, but by organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, whose token defense of selected freedoms has long since been exposed as a thin mask for an often totalitarian political agenda essentially hostile to the Constitution as written.

As the president of ADF, I have drawn inspiration from the character and integrity I first observed serving under Mr. Meese in the Reagan administration. But the national award ADF is establishing this week in his honor - the Edwin H. Meese III Originalism and Religious Liberty Award - is a tribute not to our personal relationship, but to his unswerving efforts to secure greater liberty and justice for the people of America.

At a time of new judicial appointments, when the freedoms of so many Americans are endangered as never before by those committed to recreating this country in their own image - an image hostile to faith, families, life and other enduring truths this people once held “self-evident” - it seems especially appropriate to honor individuals who still strive to preserve and enact an originalist view of the Constitution, the framework for our most crucial freedoms.

That is what the Meese Award has been created to do. May it long honor the legacy and perpetuate the vision of a man who has devoted his life to securing “the blessings of liberty” for his fellow citizens by protecting the Constitution that defends those liberties.

Alan Sears is a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration. He is president and chief executive officer of the Alliance Defense Fund (www.telladf.org), a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage and the family.

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