White House adviser Karl Rove, speaking in public for the first time since a prosecutor's report on the CIA leak case, received a standing ovation last night from a conservative legal society and passionately defended President Bush's effort to change the courts.
Smiling before 1,500 black-tie supporters in a hotel ballroom, Rove delivered an address to the Federalist Society that alternated between folksy humor and slashing denunciations of "judicial imperialism" and judges who "legislate from the bench."
Rove made no mention of his own legal troubles or of Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's five-count indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, in connection with the exposure of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative.
"Sit down -- you'll get your dinner quicker," Rove said in an effort to quell the hero's welcome from a throng he referred to as "my fellow Federalists." "My name is Karl, and I am not a lawyer," he began.
Noting that the Senate has confirmed about 200 of Bush's judicial nominees, Rove said that among the president's greatest contributions "are the changes he's brought about in our courts and our legal culture" and added that "those changes would not have been possible were it not for the Federalist Society." The group has so "thoroughly infiltrated the White House," he joked, that Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had asked him to announce a staff meeting after dinner.
Turning serious, Rove condemned a series of judicial decisions, including a Massachusetts court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. "We will see one of two things come to pass," he said. "The courts will on their own reform themselves and return to their proper role in American public life, or we will see more public support for constitutional amendments and legislation to rein them in."