Attorney General Edwin Meese III yesterday attacked the Supreme Court's Miranda decision on the rights of criminal suspects as "infamous" and wrong.
The 1966 ruling -- which provides that suspects must be advised of their rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present before being interrogated by police -- amounted to "inventing new law," Meese said in an interview on "This Week With David Brinkley" (ABC, WJLA).
"We hadn't had any need for that type of law . . . in about 175 years of history," he said.
Meese acknowleged that the court has made major changes in the Miranda rule that have answered some of his criticisms.
He did not say whether the Justice Department will seek further changes. In March, the court ruled that if a suspect confesses before being informed of his rights and then confesses again afterward, the second confession may be used in court.
The rule in Ernest Miranda v. Arizona was designed to ensure that suspects are not coerced into confessing to a crime or providing self-incriminating information.
"I think the idea that police cannot ask questions of the person who knows the most about the crime is an infamous decision. I think it's a wrong decision," said Meese, who has just finished his first six months as attorney general.
"I think if a person doesn't want to answer, that's their right. But you've had time after time all these ridiculous situations in which police are precluded from asking the one person who knows the most about the crime."
Meese was generally critical of the record of the Supreme Court during the 1960s, until the retirement of Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1969, when he said the court was involved in "wholesalely upsetting cases and inventing new law."
But he added that even the court headed by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger has made mistakes, most notably the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The Justice Department filed a brief with the court last month asking that the decision be overturned.
"The court . . . has tried to pay more attention to precedent than perhaps the Warren court did, . . . " he said. "But that doesn't mean there isn't occasionally a case which is so wrongly decided . . . . I would say that Roe v. Wade was such an arrogation of power away from the states and away from legislative bodies that I think -- and four justices of the Supreme Court agree with me, perhaps five -- it was wrongly decided and ought to be overturned."
Meese compared Roe v. Wade to the 1857 Dred Scott decision that Congress could not ban slavery. Meese said the government's position is "not that the issue is abortion. The issue is less important really than the principle, and the principle is that the issue was wrongly decided." Sources on both sides of the issue have said there is little chance the court, which decided two years ago in a 6-to-3 decision to reaffirm a woman's "fundamental right" to abortion, would overturn the original 7-to-2 decision.
In the ABC interview, Meese also defended his record on civil rights and sharply criticized the civil rights community, which was pivotal in killing the nomination of William Bradford Reynolds to be associate attorney general, the No. 3 job in the Justice Department.
Meese has said Reynolds will continue to head the Civil Rights Division and will also serve as a top-level adviser.
Referring to what he has called a "pernicious lobby," Meese said, "Far from being a civil rights movement in general, there are some people, including the critics [of Reagan administration policy], who have their own vested interests . . . .
"[These are] virulent opponents of Ronald Reagan and this administration, people who take extremist positions against the policies of this president and who are way out of step with the mainstream of political thinking in America today, who represent their own interests," he said.
Meese added, "The interest of the civil rights movement is being advanced every day by the Justice Department . . . . I would consider myself in the forefront of the civil rights movement in the country today . . . . There is no one who is more adamant in defense of civil rights . . . more opposed to discrimination in any form . . . more the champion of minorities, and of all citizens for that matter, than I am.