Quayle Blames 'Legal Aristocracy'
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 1999; Page A14
SAN FRANCISCO, May 19 Former vice president Dan Quayle today linked the school shootings in Littleton, Colo., to the handiwork of a "legal aristocracy" that he charged has helped to erode discipline and parental authority and blocked attempts to provide students with moral guidance.
Quayle said that in the wake of the Littleton tragedy, politicians are focusing on a quick fix of more gun control legislation, and he acknowledged some more steps are warranted. He said, for example, that he supports raising the legal age for purchasing some weapons from 18 to 21. But Quayle said long-term solutions lie not in more gun laws but in changing the culture, adding that, while the entertainment industry and the media have come in for their share of criticism or contributing to a culture of violence, the legal elite has escaped.
Over time, he said, this legal aristocracy "has, bit by bit, undermined parental authority over children, weakened discipline in the schools and obstructed the moral education of the young."
Seven years to the day after his famous "Murphy Brown" speech, Quayle returned to the Commonwealth Club of California to issue another blast at one of America's institutions. His speech today reflected his strategy of using cultural and moral issues to appeal to grass-roots conservatives in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Quayle blamed the legal aristocracy -- judges and lawyers alike -- for turning schools into a "value free zone" that began with the Supreme Court decision outlawing prayer in the schools and continues today with opposition to posting the Ten Commandments in school buildings.
Children's rights zealots, he said, encourage students to think they can sue their parents. "We must put parents back in charge of their homes," he said.
Quayle also charged that culture of litigation encourages students to sue teachers and school administrators for attempting to enforce rules of conduct. The threat of lawsuits, he added, makes teachers wary of imposing discipline, resulting in a breakdown of order in the school. "Our children cannot learn in an environment of chaos," he said. "Teachers who enforce discipline should be honored, not sued."
Calling some rulings involving schools and students "outrageous," Quayle said as president he would put a watchdog in the Justice Department to look for test cases to roll back previous decisions and return power to parents and schools.
In an interview after the speech, Quayle attacked the American Civil Liberties Union for investigating complaints from students that, as a consequence of the Littleton tragedy, their rights are being violated. Saying there is a balance between students' rights and school safety, Quayle said that, in the aftermath of Littleton, "If we're going to make an error, err on the side of school safety."
Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU's National Legislative Office, took issue with Quayle, saying someone has to stand up for students. "In the wake of any crisis there's a temptation to overreact and to take away rights that students have enjoyed," she said. "We're very concerned about the culture that leads us up to a Littleton, but we're also very concerned about the so-called solutions that seem to be to suspend the rights of students."
Murphy also challenged Quayle's broader premise. "What Dan Quayle wants is an authoritarian society run by his vision of what Christianity is, a society that is intolerant of differences or dissent."
Gary Bauer, one of Quayle's conservative rivals for the GOP nomination, jumped into the debate as well today, charging that judges appointed by the Bush-Quayle administration had contributed to the problems cited by the former vice president.
Bauer said he had reviewed what he called some recent anti-religious cases and found that half of them involved judges appointed by then-President George Bush. "I'm glad Dan is emphasizing this issue but I'm afraid the administration he served in bears part of the responsibility," Bauer said.
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