Presidential adviser Edwin Meese III today expressed reservations about efforts in Congress to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over sensitive social issues, and the American Bar Association condemned those efforts outright.
Conservatives have introduced a number of bills in the current session to clip the courts' wings. They would take from federal judges and the Supreme Court the power to consider such sensitive issues as abortion, school prayer and school busing. The Reagan administration has taken no formal position on the bills.
But in comments to reporters after his speech today at the ABA convention here, Meese said he believed "there are some real legal concerns in this area that most lawyers would have."
"I think it has to be handled extremely carefully when you start limiting the jurisdiction of the courts," he said.
The 380-member ABA House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly to "oppose the legislative curtailment of the jurisdiction" of the federal courts. Only one person spoke against the resolution before a voice vote.
Although the delegates here come from every state and and are of every political stripe, the lack of controversy was predictable. Few lawyers have spoken publicly in favor of the legislation. Most regard the court-stripping proposals as invasions of a sacred turf.
A report adopted by the delegates said that "irrespective of the subject involved and regardless of our individual beliefs with respect to any of them, the overriding consideration is that we support the integrity and independence of the federal courts . . . and the integrity and inviolability of the amending process."
The ABA also voted 233 to 35 in favor of an extension of the Voting Rights Act, in force since 1965 to protect the electoral rights of blacks and other minorities.
The extension, currently being fought out in Congress, would preserve the requirement that states primarily in the South obtain federal "pre-clearance" of any changes in their election laws to make sure they do not discriminate against a minority.
The ABA supported a five-year extension of the law and a provision allowing jurisdictions to obtain court approval to "bail out" of the act when they can show long-term compliance.