Spring 2013 Bulletin

Restoring Justice: The Speeches of Edward H. Levi

By
Jack Fuller

edited by Jack Fuller, with a Foreword by Larry D. Kramer
 

Reflections by Jack Fuller

Jack Fuller, a Fellow of the American Academy, served as Editor and Publisher of the Chicago Tribune. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. He served as special assistant to Edward H. Levi in the Department of Justice.

Edward H. Levi
Portrait of Edward H. Levi by Everett Raymond Kinstler

When Edward Levi took the oath of office in Washington, D.C, in February of 1975, he became the fifth Attorney General in six years. Two of his four predecessors ended up convicted of crimes related to the Watergate scandal. The former acting head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation resigned after admitting he had destroyed documents on the orders of the White House Counsel. Special committees were gearing up on Capitol Hill to investigate three decades of secret history – including the FBI’s. Confidence in the integrity of federal justice was at a nadir. This bore down heavily on the thousands of Justice Department officials who had served well and faithfully throughout the crisis.

When Levi left office a little less than two years later, the most sensitive intelligence operations of the FBI were governed by new guidelines that required regular review by the Attorney General’s office and, in some cases, authorization by the Attorney General himself. Because of these guidelines, the number of domestic intelligence cases (of the sort the FBI had run against leftist groups, civil rights organizations, and anti-war protestors) had declined from about 5,000 to fewer than 300. A bill was working its way through Congress to establish a special court authorized to issue warrants for electronic surveillance in foreign intelligence cases, supplanting the process of Attorney General authorization, based on a delegation of presidential power. The legal basis for the activities of the intelligence agencies had been clarified, which was a constraint but also a protection.

Most important, inside and outside his department Levi helped restore the belief that the Department of Justice was committed to the rule of law. After he returned to the University of Chicago as an emeritus professor, and later became president of the American Academy, Levi came to be known as the very model of a modern attorney general.

Levi’s speeches and testimony in Congress played a vital role in reversing the crisis of legitimacy brought on by Watergate. He believed in government by discussion, and he led by example. He believed in recognizing the complexity of issues in which important national values (security and individual liberty, for example) pushed in contrary directions. He believed in speaking as openly as possible about the most sensitive and politically divisive matters. And he believed in the kind of intellectual honesty that states the reasons against one’s position as forcefully as one would want one’s own to be stated.

Levi’s service as Attorney General coincided with the bicentennial, and he used the occasion to remind the public that the issues of his day were not entirely new. He spoke of the tensions inherent in the Constitution itself, the way the Founders dealt with them, and the origins of the nation’s fundamental values and law. He went back even beyond the American Revolution to recall the development of the idea of the rule of law in British history. Levi often spoke with eloquence, sometimes with humor, and always with seriousness of purpose.

These speeches remind us what it sounds like when a government leader forgoes the spin, speaks to us as adults, trusts us with difficult facts, and transcends party and ideology in pursuit of wise governance. As Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation, former dean of the Stanford Law School, and member of the American Academy, wrote in his foreword, “Reading the speeches in this volume really made me miss Edward Levi.”

Restoring Justice: The Speeches of Edward H. Levi, edited by Jack Fuller, with a Foreword by Larry D. Kramer, University of Chicago Press, 2013, is available from the University of Chicago Press at http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/R/bo15507513.html.

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