Although the task of reviewing Edwin Meese's nomination for attorney general has been neither pleasant nor easy, the duty of the Senate is clear. We must carefully review Meese's past actions and statements and decide whether they measure up to the special responsibilities of the office he is seeking.
And let's not kid ourselves: the office of attorney general is special; it is a unique Cabinet position and certainly one of the most important. In addition to being the nation's chief law enforcement officer and the secular arbiter of right and wrong in our society, the attorney general also is responsible for protecting the civil rights and liberties of every American citizen. And that is why the person who fills that job must meet not only the most rigorous standards of ethical conduct, but also possess complete dedication to full and fair treatment of every American under the law.
In my judgment, Edwin Meese's past actions and statements raise serious doubts about his inclination and ability to administer the duties of attorney general in a rigorous and evenhanded manner. By declaring that "the progressive income tax is immoral," and by implying that those who shiver in cold winter soup lines were little more than cheaters and freeloaders, he has shown himself to be disposed to the strong and disdainful of the weak. By describing the American Civil Liberties Union as "a criminals' lobby," he displayed scornfulness for the rights of the accused and a probable predisposition to prosecute crime in the streets more vigorously than crime in the suites. By praising the Supreme Court's Grove City decision and by actively participating in the scheme to grant tax breaks to segregationist academies, he exhibited a worrisome tepidness toward civil rights and a troubling tolerance of uncivil wrongs.
Some have that a president should be allowed to appoint people of his ideological choosing, so long as they possess the judgment and ethical sensibilities required of the office. Most senators share those sentiments -- at least to a certain degree. And that is why I believe the crucial question on this nomination is not whether Meese's politics are right or left, but whether his ethics are right or wrong.
It is true that a special prosecutor's investigation has cleared him of any indictable offenses. But that finding should hardly be interpreted as giving him a clean bill of ethical health. By accepting unsecured loans from a man he later helped appoint to a federal positon; by accepting a promotion in the Army Reserves that smacked of preferential treatment; and by asking that a check he had already deposited be al after discovering that the original purpose of he check might be illegal, Meese has demonstrated a clear lack of judgment and an appalling indifference to the appearance of impropriety.
Now some, including The Washington Post, have argued that while Meese's ethical lapses have been regrettable, rejecting his nomination on those grounds would be hypocritical. They say that because senators themsevles do not always meet the highest of ethical standards, it would therefore be unfair to ask Meese to do so. But that argument misses the crucial distinction between appointed and elected officials. Elected officials are accountble to the people. And if the people lose faith in us, or believe our conduct, judgment or ethics to be improper, they may use the ballot to remove us from office. The people have no such recourse with appointed officials -- and that is why the Constitution gives senators, as the people's representatives, the duty to advise the president on his nominations and to give or withold our consent on his nominees.
The attorney general need not be a Superman, a Solomon, or a saint. But Watergate proved that partisan loyalty and personal friendship with the president are alone insufficient qualifications for the foremost legal office in the land. Let us prove that we have learned that lesson. Let us reaffirm that service as attorney general is a high and noble calling, reserved only for those who meet the highest ethical and professional standards. And let us do these things by decisively rejecting the nomination of Edwin Meese.