Presidential counselor Edwin Meese III was "speaking for himself" and not the administration when he said that the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have banded together in "what might be described as a criminals' lobby," a White House official said yesterday.
Meese made the remark in a speech Monday to the California Peace Officers Association in Sacramento. Asked about this yesterday, White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said Meese's comments were based on information he remembered reading in a footnote to an article published in the Pacific Law Journal.
Meese's speech was reported first by the Los Angeles Times. The report said the senior presidential aide, a former California prosecutor, appeared to attack the ACLU spontaneously as he charged that during the last 20 years "there has actually been the emergence, not only in California but throughtout the nation, of what might be described as a criminals' lobby."
Meese said "opponents of effective criminal justice legislation" became especially powerful in California during the 1970s, when the state replaced its indeterminate sentencing law was legislation fixing specific prison terms for crimes.
Meese was quoted as saying that a coalition or organizations "came out and actually bargained on behalf of the criminals as to what the penalties should be and what the limitations should be on law enforcement in enforcing those penalties."
Meese, according to the Times' account, said a footnote in a Pacific Law Journal article lists "some nine or 10 different organizations -- the Prisoners Union, the ACLU and a whole group of others -- that have now formed a consistent body of lobbying which is regularly opposed to law enforcement."
This description of the footnote was disputed yesterday by Harold Craig Manson, current editor of the journal, which is published by the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento.
Manson said the footnote was in a January, 1978, article discussing passage of the determine sentencing legislation and simply listed the ACLU and other organizations as having urged the change in the law during hearings held in 1974.
The footnote does not say the ACLU and other organizations are engaged in "lobbying which is regularly opposed to law enforcement," Manson said.
Earlier this week, the ACLU of Southern California denounced Meese's characterization as "totally inappropriate." The organization's national office here said it may have a statement on the speech later.