August 28, 1987
The President. It's a great pleasure to meet this morning with such distinguished law enforcement officials who've been active on the front lines of our fight against crime. I'm particularly pleased to have this opportunity to hear your views on a matter that will have a continuing impact on law enforcement and criminal justice long after my administration leaves office: the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to succeed Lewis Powell as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has always had a critical role in the administration of criminal justice at both the State and Federal levels. Criminal cases make up one of the largest categories of the highest Court's decisions. I'm surprised to learn it's almost one-third of all the cases it considers. And that's why, when it comes to crime and safety of our citizens, it's so important for our courts to make a tough, clear-eyed look at the Constitution's purpose to establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility.
Judge Robert Bork, whom I nominated nearly 8 weeks ago, would be just such a Justice. His guiding principle is one of judicial restraint. And Judge Bork believes that judges should not make the laws; their function is to interpret the laws based on the Constitution and precedent. It's time we reassert the fundamental principle of the purpose of criminal justice is to find the truth, not to coddle criminals. The constitutional rights of the accused must be protected but so must the rights of our law-abiding citizens.
During his distinguished career in law and public service, Robert Bork has demonstrated a genuine concern for the right of our citizens to live in safe communities and a clear understanding of the problems facing today's law enforcement professions. As Solicitor General, the Nation's chief legal advocate before the Supreme Court, he argued the landmark cases that upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment, a position maintained by Justice Lewis Powell in his years on the Court. Last term the constitutionality of capital punishment in cases of particularly brutal murders was narrowly reaffirmed with the support of Justice Powell, whose seat Judge Bork would fill. It's essential that capital punishment remain on the books if we're to protect innocent lives from the tragedy of vicious criminal acts.
As Solicitor General, Bob Bork also advanced common-sense readings of the Constitution that would help, not hinder, the search for truth in criminal trials. He argued the Constitution was intended to assure real justice for all citizens, not to foster never-ending sparring matches between lawyers. As a judge on one of our nation's most important appellate courts, Judge Bork has handed down tough but fair decisions that have protected the rights of victims in the society as well as the rights of the accused, and our Constitution, we know, requires no less.
Together, we've made great strides in the war on crime. A key reason for that progress has been the appointment of tough-minded judges. For the past 7 years, Federal criminal sentences have increased 30 percent overall. Judge Bork's nomination is a crucial opportunity to continue our progress in the war against crime. The Supreme Court today is closely divided on many important criminal justice issues. The support given to Judge Bork's nomination by law enforcement professionals like you and the men and women you represent can help ensure that Lewis Powell's seat on the Supreme Court is filled by a judge who shares his support for the rule of law.
Reporter. Mr. President, why are there no women supporters of Bork on law and order?
The President. I'm not sure there aren't. Have you asked Nancy? [Laughter]
Q. You didn't invite any, so -- your own administration officials take up half the table.
The President. The other half of the table are leaders of virtually all the law enforcement organizations in the United States.
Q. Sir, what can you tell us about the Philippines? Do you think Mrs. Aquino is out of danger now?
The President. I don't know, Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News]. I'm not going to get into that. We've got another subject here. And frankly, we're trying to keep track of what's going on there.
Mr. Weinberg. We've got to go.
The President. He shut me off. See?
Q. Would you ask Mrs. Reagan to take our calls so we can find out if she supports Judge Bork? [Laughter]
The President. She'll take your calls.
Q. Mr. President, Admiral Poindexter wants to retire at his old rank of vice admiral. Will you support that?
The President. I'm not going to comment on that. I just learned that myself.
Q. Is that something you'd consider?
The President. No answers now.
Q. It looks like the Russians are planning for a summit in either October or November. Does that please you, sir?
Mr. Weinberg. He said no answers. Let's go, please.
The President. You know that I support the idea of a summit.
Q. It looks good, doesn't it?
The President. I'm not going to comment.
Note: The President spoke at 11:05 a.m. in the Oak Room at the Century Plaza Hotel. In his remarks, the President referred to John M. Poindexter, former Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. Mark D. Weinberg was Special Assistant to the President and Assistant Press Secretary.