At the Justice Department these days, officials say with something of a nervous smile that they must be doing something right because they're being attacked from all sides.
They are almost used to being criticized by civil liberties and public interest groups on the left, who complain the department is weakening enforcement of civil rights, environmental and antitrust laws. Now they're getting it from the right as well.
Justice is obstructing the Reagan administration's efforts to control the bureaucracy, fight crime and remove constitutional barriers to social issues such as school prayer, busing, and tuition tax credits.
Human Events, the conservative weekly newspaper, fired a salvo Aug. 15 in its "Inside Washington" column, quoting White House chief of staff James A. Baker III as saying the department is "out of control." This was in sharp contrast to press reports a few months earlier that indicated the White House was in total command of the department.
The Human Events article referred to "radical holdover elements" in the department and decried reports that Justice lawyers were raising serious questions about the constitutionality of the tuition tax credit and bills stripping courts of jurisdiction.
Paul Weyrich, head of the Committee for Survival of a Free Congress, a New Right organization, said Friday that conservative groups are dissatisfied with what they perceive as Justice's reluctance to move on an array of issues. "What's happening is symptomatic of the people they have there," he said. "They're either Carter holdovers or of the corporate Republican mentality, 'Adjust and get along. Don't rock the boat.' "
Reagan officials in Justice respond to the criticism from the right by saying the White House deliberately has put controversial social issues on hold so it can concentrate its efforts on the economic program. They also point out that the department is charged with upholding the Constitution and, until laws are changed, with enforcing the ones that exist.
But Weyrich, labeling as "nonsense" Justice's claim that its lawyers are defending the Constitution, said, "The Constitution has been so perverted by the courts, so perverted by government regulations, it isn't the same Constitution we were talking about 20 years ago. I don't want to defend that kind of Constitution."
The focus of much of the conservative discontent is the department's office of legal counsel, which gives legal opinions to Attorney General William French Smith. Justice officials said attorneys in that office have written draft opinions finding court jurisdiction bills and the tuition tax credit idea unconstitutional.
Theodore B. Olson, the assistant attorney general who runs the office, said Friday that he couldn't discuss draft opinions other than to say the jurisdiction and tuition tax credit proposals do raise "some fairly difficult constitutional questions."
Weyrich also expressed special concern about the department's position opposing the legislative veto, through which Congress may overrule agency regulations. As a presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan favored the veto as a way to control the bureaucracy, Weyrich noted, and the Republican platform also endorses such tools for reining in bureaucrats.
On that subject, Olson responds: "I don't think it's a liberal-conservative issue." Olson suggested that Congress could overcome the constitutional problems by using a joint resolution to reject agency rules. That would permit a presidential veto, he said, "and I can't imagine President Reagan vetoing something that would bring the bureaucracy under control."
Olson also noted that respected conservative scholars such as Yale Law School professor Robert Bork consider the jurisdiction-stripping proposals unconstitutional. The bill would prohibit courts from hearing cases on such controversial issues as school prayer and busing.
Administration sources said last week that Bork will be nominated to a prestigious seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, as sort of a training ground for possible promotion to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Another issue that has stirred some recent conservative anger is the criminal code, which for years has enjoyed bipartisan support in the Senate. Connie Marshner, chairman of the so-called Library Court coalition of conservative groups, said she understood the Justice Department is pushing a version of the code that would decriminalize marijauna, eliminate a husband's immunity from being charged with raping his wife, and legalize common-law marriages.
Congressional aides familiar with the draft being circulated now by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that minor changes have been made in the bill to placate conservatives and some business groups.