Drug Policy

Where Is the Real Ed Meese, and Why Are You Wearing His Clothes?


I'm quoted in an article in today's New York Times about new left-right-libertarian alliances on criminal justice issues. The article itself does a good job of laying out the emerging interest on the right in excessive police and prosecutorial powers.

I was particularly struck, however, by comments from former Regan administration Attorney General and longtime law-and-order man Ed Meese, who gives the appearance of having come full circle on some of these issues. Meese is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and I've recently defended Heritage's Overcriminalization project. If Meese had had a late in life epiphany on the proper balance police and prosecutor powers and the rights of the accused, I'm happy to hear it. But this is just inaccurate:

Mr. Meese said the "liberal ideas of extending the power of the state" were to blame for an out-of-control criminal justice system. "Our tradition has always been," he said, "to construe criminal laws narrowly to protect people from the power of the state."

Both left and right have contributed to the over-criminalization problem, and we can blame both major parties for the massive police powers given up to government in the drug war over the last 30 years.  But Meese is being disingenuous here. This is the same Ed Meese who popularized the phrase "zero tolerance." It's the same Ed Meese who once called the ACLU a "criminals' lobby," and who once said…

"…you don't have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That's contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect."

In fact, browsing the index of Smoke and Mirrors, Dan Baum's excellent history of the drug war, during his time as Attorney General, Meese pushed for, among other policies….

• Expansion of federal asset forfeiture laws, including giving police the ability to seize before an indictment, and "substitute assets" provisions.

• More power to hold suspects without bail.

• Repeal of the Miranda requirement and the Exclusionary Rule.

• The power to issue administrative subpoenas to require defense attorneys to snitch on their clients.

• The federal reporting requirement on cash transactions over $10,000.

• Stripping drug suspects of all their assets so they can't afford to hire a defense attorney.

If Meese has come around on these issues, good on him. But he's hardly blameless in the story of how police and prosecutors—particularly federal prosecutors—wield the powers they do today. More recently, Meese also championed the nominations of both John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, easily the two most pro-government justices on the bench when it comes to criminal justice issues—and both were known as such at the time of their respective nominations.

Meese could actually have an impact if he's had a genuine road to Damascus moment. But that would require him to acknowledge and atone for his own contribution to the over-criminalization problem. Trying to whitewash his own history and time at DOJ by blaming where we are today on "liberal ideas" is just partisan hackery, and lends fuel to the accusation that he and Heritage are only taking interest in these issues because under the Obama administration the targets of U.S. Attorneys are more likely to be white collar Heritage donors than the hippie stoners and urban heroin addicts Meese spent years trying to strip of their constitutional rights.

NEXT: Remember That Census-Worker Murder, the One Michele Bachmann Was Supposed to Apologize For?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I hate those Meeses to pieces!

  2. Meese-cooties on you.

  3. Jeez, i didn’t realize Meese was such an authoritarian shit. Fuck Ed Meese, yo.

  4. So, Ed Meese goes from being a pig to being a lying pig. Maybe he’s angling for the LP presidential nomination like Bob Barr.


  5. If Meese has come around on these issues, good on him.

    More likely: he’s a lying sack of shit, who thinks he can score a few cheap points against the other team.

  6. I wonder if libertarians will ever learn not to trust these fuckers.

    1. What do you mean by “these fuckers”?

    2. Humans?

      1. Poiticians in either major party.

        Are all those troops home from Iraq yet?

  7. “”liberal ideas of extending the power of the state” were to blame for an out-of-control criminal justice system”

    He’s probably talking about mandatory recycling programs, seat belt laws, and such. Sounds like he doesn’t believe anything is ‘out-of-control’ when it’s targeting something truly criminal… like using drugs.

  8. I think there’s plenty of blame on both sides.

    “””Mr. Meese said the “liberal ideas of extending the power of the state” were to blame for an out-of-control criminal justice system.”””

    When Mr. Meese comes out and offers a mea culpa, I might, might, start to believe him. But as ususal, highlight only what the other team did wrong, and pretend your team didn’t have anything to do with it.

  9. What do you mean by “these fuckers”?


    Yeah. Humans don’t belong in positions of power over other humans. That’s my takeaway from libertarianism, anyway.

    1. Xeones-

      You said it all.

      That is why “law and order” means disorder and mayhem.

      That is why hard core anarcho-free enterprise-individualists have the best grip on human nature.

  10. Humans rarely prove worthy.

    So we await our mechanized overlords.

  11. Question: Wouldn’t “full circle” mean coming back to where you started? Not the same as an “about face” or a “180”

    Just sayin

  12. I guess Meese subscribes to the Bob Barr “Pay lip service to the notion of liberty once you lose your government-granted ability to destroy it” school of political thought.

    1. Well phrased.

    2. Barr was the strongest civil libertarian in Congress despite his drug war proclivities.Tallest midget,smartest retard but still, the strongest civil libertarian in congress.

  13. Y’know what’s sad? There’re currently only 4 results on Google when you search for “Bloom County” + “The Meese Piece” (and NONE have a scan of the strip.)

  14. I think the correct term is Meese-a culpa.

    That being said, it’s a good thing he has seen the light. Of course, we only need to wait until these laws get reformed before Meese, Heritage & Co. start railing against the Dem Congress for letting drug “kingpins” drive their Porches to court.

    1. I think the point is that he clearly doesn’t see the light. If he saw the light he wouldn’t consider liberals to be the only culpable group on the issue.

      Its like if two guys play equal roles together in a crime and one “sees the light” by recognizing the terrible acts committed by his friend, while ignoring his own role.

  15. Y’know what’s sad? There’re currently only 4 results on Google when you search for “Bloom County” + “The Meese Piece” (and NONE have a scan of the strip.)

    Which one are you talking about? The strip where Binkley compared his anatomy to Meese’s is here:


    Except they changed the word “tush” to “hair” for some reason.

  16. Ed Meese is a 100% shithead evil motherfucker. He did irreparable harm to the nation during his tenure as Attorney General. He should have been convicted of treason and his brains should be decorating a wall.

    If he’s saying freedom friendly stuff now, it’s because the reigns of power have slipped from his hands.

  17. Ed Meese is exhibit 1 for the proponents of the proposition that Ronald Reagan was a fraud.

    1. Agreed. It’s extremely difficult to reconcile Meese’s DOJ and Reagan’s destructive escalation of the drug war with his popular, revisionist legacy of diminished federal power and intervention.

  18. And odds are some clueless libertarians will embrace Meese and insist he’s wonderful and if he becomes the LP presidential candidate it’s our chance to hit the political bigtime! Fringe no more!

    I swear, I have no idea why libertarianism is so unpopular among women; if nothing else, we ought to have the “Abused wife” demographic locked tight. “Of course I’ll take him back! He’s changed! I swear he’s changed! You just don’t know him the way I do.”

    1. Wow. Jennifer for the win?

      1. Damned right! I feel so strongly about this, I even ignored my principled stance against threaded comments to agree with you, Matt.

        1. Seriously, WHAT IS WRONG with threaded comments? Makes it easier to follow the conversation, no? Also, you get to go into insane threads three years later and post play-by-play commentary, which is all kinds of awesome.

          1. Well for one thing it makes it really, really hard to catch up on a thread that you’ve read before.

            I like to read H&R during breaks at work but don’t feel comfortable posting until I get home. By then I have to slog thru the comments that I’ve read already to get to something new.

            I, too, am breaking my self-imposed ban on threading to respond to this.

            … Hobbit

          2. Makes it easier to follow the conversation, no?

            No, not when you refresh a 200-comment thread.

          3. I have mixed feelings on them.

          4. It also makes it possible to read a thread later and find — as happened with me — that you read things in the exact backwards chronological order from which they were written.

            Mucking about with the fabric of spacetime is very, very bad, Matt.

            Then there’s the mini-debates which play out as follows:

            ME: [Assertion]

            OTHER GUY: Oh, yeah? Well, what about [Issue X]?

            ME: I addressed [Issue X] three hours ago, though I wouldn’t expect you to know this because this stupid threaded comment system means you’d have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page to notice that.

            Mucking about with the fabric of spacetime is very, very bad.

            Also, you get to go into insane threads three years later and post play-by-play commentary, which is all kinds of awesome.

            This is true. So how about a compromise: un-thread the current comments, and then rethread them when they’re three years old? Or even three months. I can be flexible here.

            1. The Hobbit’s catch up problem is a valid complaint when you’re only reading and not posting. When you’re posting, doing a page search for your name is a pretty easy way to find your posts to check for replies.

              Unthreaded? Forget it, unless someone specifically puts your name in their reply. If you posted more than once, hope that you can figure out to what they are replying.

              The time travel complaint doesn’t make any sense to me, but then again I don’t have any problems seeing each thread as a separate time stream. For me, it’s effortless and I can understand that that may not be the case for even a large plurality. When you see someone missing a point you made on another thread, how about “see below @ 3:24PM” or just repasting the whole thing or even posting your comment link? There’s no need to conserve electrons and any sense of added clutter is indented anyway, so it’s easily ignored (at least by those who prefer threaded comments).

              As it is now, with 200 comments, with threaded comments I can scan the leftmost column and ignore pages of uninteresting crap. Unthreaded? 200 comments? I’m not reading that shit. Maybe I’ll seagull post at the end, but probably not bother.

    2. Baby, I love you! Honest! I only did all those things because I love you so much! It just makes me crazy to see you unhappy, really. C’mon baby, contribute another $50, because I love you! Make checks out to the HB. I mean LP.

      1. Fuck off, Harry, that’s MY bitch now! She came back to ME!

  19. Meese is cashing checks from the Heritage Foundation. That means he will not go on record contradicting any of their positions. It does not mean that he supports any of their positions. He was authoritarian scum, and I see no reason to think he has changed. If anything, he is now lying authoritarian scum.

  20. Ed Meese lived his life on the Orient Express.

  21. It’s even worse that you imagine. The rest of the world knows, and history will record, that Mr.-then attorney general- Meese, approved the assasination of Osho Rajneesh under the Reagan administration. So much for his Christianity.

    1. I’d give Meese props if he was responsible for that POS’s death.
      Buffets are dangerous enough w/o some culty guru spreading salmonella all over them.

  22. Ed Meese is still alive? I’m starting to think that ancient cultures were onto something when they buried all a king’s aides, advisors, and servants along with the leader when he died. Even if they didn’t really do that, it’s something we should seriously consider.

  23. Radley, surely you know how this works:

    Official retires and moves into private life, then pens editorial on how everything he worked for in public life was wrong. (but may not draw connection to his own personal attitudes at the time… sometimes makes it like he/she held this insight the whole time) Reason staffer writes article or blogpost with title along the lines of “Former Yuckity-yuck supports legalizing blah blah blah”. Then H&R commenters Drink!

  24. I would like to say, for the fucking record: The Meese Commission on Pornography.

    This was back when Liberals believed in the First Amendment. It was also the last time they believed in the First Amendment.

    1. plus one

      (Stupid language detector on server)

  25. Meese was simply one of a long string of despicible people to hold the post of AG. I swear, you’ve got to be an authoriarian asshole to be the chief law enforcement officer in the nation.

    I think I just answered myself.

    .. Hobbit

    1. authoritarian

      .. dammit

      .. Hobbit

      (This sentence added to assure the squirrel that this is, indeed, American English)


    2. despicable

      I give up.

      .. Hobbit

      (Dammit, squirrel, what the hell does it take. I truly give up.)


    3. Edward Levi, Ford’s 2nd Attorney General, wasn’t too bad. His “Levi Guidelines” curtailed, for a while, FBI spying on political dissidents.

  26. “Libertarians and the civil liberties left have always had some common ground on these issues,” said Radley Balko, a senior editor at Reason, a libertarian magazine. “The more vocal presence of conservatives on overcriminalization issues is really what’s new.”

    That’s exactly what I was thinking as I read this article. At first it seemed to be implying that this was a new step for both conservatives and libertarians. Balko be representin’.

  27. And odds are some clueless libertarians will embrace Meese and insist he’s wonderful and if he becomes the LP presidential candidate it’s our chance to hit the political bigtime! Fringe no more!

    Because, Jennifer, when you’re the ugly kid at the prom, you say “yes” to whoever asks you to dance.

    Speaking for myself, I may be ugly, but I still have standards.

  28. Everyone wants to know how to evaluate, anticipate and predict where Obama wants to go as America’s President. The best way is to look at what he says. He told us what he believed. He said that the interests of the community are more important than are the interests of the individual. However, America was founded on individual freedom, which means the interests of the individual are more important than the community or the society. America grew economically because of individual freedom and the resulting free market. No other nation experienced America’s level of prosperity. The rest of the world was founded for thousands of years on the community interests being superior to individual interests, because a few elite ruled the many and could never take a chance on individuals having their own way, bordered only by laws to prevent injustice. Obama made his choice to support the Old World position and is moving America, through enormous expansion of government and debt, in that direction. It is clear by his statement, by those with whom he associated as described on claysamerica.com. You need not be confused, as Obama made it clear how to predict his moves.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.