Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
Judicial Conference

Washington, D.C.
September 20, 2005 - 9:30 am

Good morning.

Thank you, Justice Stevens.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with your Executive Committee. The agenda reflected that good progress has been made on issues of importance to the judiciary, but clearly work remains in the areas of sentencing, immigration appeals, and judicial security. I have enjoyed working with Judge Carolyn King, and I look forward to working closely with her successor, Judge Hogan.

It would be customary for me in addressing the conference to comment on substantive issues affecting the judiciary and the Department of Justice. But, as we all know, this is not a normal time, and so I wanted to add my voice to the choir of supporters and admirers of Chief Justice William Rehniquist.

There is a lot I might say about the Chief - he was one of the most distinguished Chief Justices in the history of the Court, and led a colorful and full life outside of work. But being verbose in a tribute to the Chief, whose opinions sometimes seemed shorter than the syllabuses that summarized them, would be like citing foreign law in a tribute to Justice Scalia. So I will keep this short, because that is what he would want me to do.

As a father, I care very much about the influences on my 13 and 10 year old sons, Graham and Gabriel. Role models are so important at this age. The poignant words of eulogy offered by the Chief Justice's family at the memorial service painted a remarkably clear picture of a good man beloved by his family. They obviously learned a lot about life and priorities from their father and grandfather, as did a large cadre of former clerks. I did not have the privilege of knowing the personal side of the Chief Justice as well as some of you, but what I do know makes me a little sad that my sons will not know the man and they will not learn from him the lessons that he taught so many others.

Of course, most of us here knew the Chief Justice as a dedicated public servant-dedicated to the Court and to the rule of law.

As the Attorney General, I'd like to spend a few minutes commenting on the Chief Justice's jurisprudence in law-enforcement cases. Not everyone in this room may agree with Chief Justice Rehnquist's approach to the law in this area, but no one can deny the effect that he had.

In considering law enforcement cases, Chief Justice Rehnquist often advocated legal standards based on objective criteria, and he counseled against post-hoc inquiries into the subjective motivations of police officers and prosecutors. He worked to make legal rules clear and comprehensible for officers serving on the frontlines. He believed that bright-line rules would better protect both citizens and law enforcement.

Chief Justice Rehnquist tried to understand the challenges - often life-threatening challenges - faced by law enforcement. He often cautioned against second guessing the split-second decisions made each day by law-enforcement officers on the street-decisions that he knew were often made in the dangerous context of an arrest or at the scene of a crime.

Perhaps the Chief Justice was particularly attuned to the concerns of law enforcement because of his tenure in the Department of Justice - as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. I think it more likely that it was due to his mid-western humility, his pragmatism, and his commitment to the separation of powers.

He vigorously defended the independence of the judiciary, but he also respected the enumerated powers and the specific roles afforded by our Constitution to the executive and the legislative branches.

The confirmation hearings of Judge Roberts last week remind us and the public of importance of judges and the Judiciary in our democratic and constitutional systems. The Chief Justice understood the role of the Judiciary in America's great story of freedom, and his life's work reflected it.

As one of his clerks recently wrote, the Chief Justice "regarded himself as the bearer of a great trust and of a heavy obligation of stewardship." As judges, you bear that same trust and obligation.

I appreciate every opportunity to meet with the Judicial Conference to ensure that the Department of Justice does all it can to assist the Conference in the fulfillment of that trust and obligation.

And this year especially, I appreciate the service and the example of Chief Justice Rehnquist. He reminded us that, as public servants, the lives we touch everyday are as important as the legacy we leave in the law.

Thank you.