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Public Papers - 1990 - September

Remarks to Federal, State, and Local Prosecutors

1990-09-12

Please be seated. And please take off your coats. I mean, it's a little warm out here in the Rose Garden. Well, thank you, Attorney General Thornburgh, and U.S. attorneys, State attorneys general. I see our Director of the FBI here, and local district attorneys and other law enforcement officials. I am just delighted to have this opportunity to welcome our nation's prosecutors to the White House. I know that you spent the morning over at Justice with Dick Thornburgh. I just got briefed on that -- discussing the legal changes that we need to help you do your jobs more effectively. And I know that other subjects are preoccupying all of us these days, but I repeat today what I said last week: Drugs and violent crime remain a top priority.

And on behalf of all the American people, I want to thank you, all of you, for working to help us take back the streets. We know full well that the life of a prosecutor is not easy. For gifted, hard-working lawyers like yourselves, the financial sacrifice is immense. And more importantly, over the past 30 years America's criminal justice system has become bogged down with technicalities that stymie our prosecutors' simple goals -- to see the truth come out, the guilty punished, the law upheld, and justice done. Too many times, in too many cases, too many criminals go free because the scales of justice are unfairly loaded against dedicated law men and women like you.

Since taking office, we've worked with many of you to try to steady the scales of justice, to seek a fair balance between the legitimate rights of criminals and criminal suspects, and society's right to protect itself from evil predators. And America took an important step towards balancing these scales when I had the chance to name a tough, a fair-minded, intellectually brilliant judge as my first nominee to the Supreme Court -- New Hampshire's Judge David Souter. With a decade of law enforcement experience prior to being elevated to the bench, Judge Souter comes from your own ranks. The Senate starts these confirmation hearings tomorrow, and I call on them to act swiftly so that he can take his place as the only career prosecutor on the Court in time for the Court's first sitting. And, of course, I am very pleased -- all of us are pleased -- that the American Bar Association gave him their highest rating by a unanimous vote. And we're especially pleased that the National District Attorneys Association endorsed Judge Souter for the Supreme Court, praising him as a tough anticrime judge. This is a group that knows all too well the problems with the criminal justice system that all too often simply doesn't work.

And that's why I stood before the Capitol on a rainy day in May last year -- and many of you were there -- calling on Congress to pass legislation to give our prosecutors and police the tools they need to fight back against the epidemic of violent crime still raging in America. That was over a year ago. And despite the urgency of the problem, the Congress has failed to act on key aspects of my proposal. What's worse, several measures receiving serious consideration in the House this week would actually weaken law enforcement and hamper your efforts to protect the citizens of this nation. But your presence here today sends a powerful warning to Congress, a shot across the bow of a ship that is moving in the wrong direction. We will not accept a crime bill that is tougher on law enforcement than it is on criminals.

We need a crime bill that will stop the endless abuse of habeas corpus, that guarantees that criminals who use serious weapons face serious weapon charges and serious time, and that ensures that evidence gathered by good cops acting in good faith isn't barred by technicalities that let bad people go free. And for the most unspeakable of crimes, we do need a workable death penalty, which is to say a real death penalty. I simply will not accept anything that rolls back the clock on America's ability to fight crime and punish wrongdoers. The bottom line is really this: I will not sign a crime bill that handcuffs the police. I will not sign a bill that overturns recent Supreme Court decisions limiting frivolous habeas corpus petitions, that expands the coverage of the exclusionary rule, or that creates a racial quota system for capital punishment.

You know the difference between my proposals, which give you the legal tools you need to win this fight, and the anti-law-enforcement proposals that some in the Congress are attempting to peddle as a crime bill. For the past 2 weeks America's been gripped by chilling headlines that tell of kids going back to school in bulletproof coats; and a visiting Utah man, a kid really, sports lover, killed while defending his mother from a New York subway gang said to be after pocket money so they could go dancing. The American people really are fed up. You know this perhaps better than I because you're on the front lines, but they're fed up. And I urge the Congress to heed the voices of our people, our police, and our prosecutors, and send me a crime bill that will help take back the streets.

I want to thank you. I really wanted to have this meeting, and so did Dick, so that both of us here, in the majesty of the Rose Garden and the shadow of the White House, we could tell you that we are grateful to you. And we know it's not easy, but keep up your dedicated efforts to make our community safe. We're lucky -- America is lucky -- to have men and women of your quality and your character out doing the job for all of us.

Thank you and God bless you. And God bless our great country. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:05 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to William Sessions, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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