Showcase Panel Iv: The Role of Government in Defining Our Culture

By Meese, Edwin, III | Northwestern University Law Review, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview
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Showcase Panel Iv: The Role of Government in Defining Our Culture

Meese, Edwin, III, Northwestern University Law Review

The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy

presents its

2006 National Lawyers Convention









Saturday, November 18, 2006

Washington, D.C.


Edwin Meese III*

As you know, the theme of the Convention is limited government. We have had Showcase Panels on limited government and spreading democracy, a panel talking about the economic aspects of things like taxes and regulation, and before this, a panel on the question of whether constitutional measures are necessary in order to achieve limited government. This final panel is an interesting one, I think, because it centers less around governmental things per se than it does around the relationship between government and the everyday lives of people. The topic is: "The role of government in defining our culture."

The initial question, of course, is: What should that role be? We can think about it in terms of what the Founders had in mind, and what that role is today-is there a difference between the original concept and how it has worked out a little over two hundred years later? We might consider what other institutions of society perhaps are competing with government in defining our culture, and to what extent more attention should be given to them when limited government is one of our objectives. We might ask: What principles do we use to determine when government should intervene in defining culture? And can you ever have a governmental role in culture that is outcome neutral? Finally, we might debate whether there is some consensus among the people generally as to what that role of government is in defining the culture, or if this a matter of continual tension, perhaps what the Founders had in mind when Publius, or Madison, wrote in The Federalist that ambition would counter ambition?1

Is there a consensus today as to the role of government in defining culture? To answer this question in Federalist Society tradition, we have a number of people here gathered who do not always agree with each other. And so, as a result, I think we will have a lively discussion.

1 THE FEDERALIST NO. 51 (James Madison).

* Hon. Edwin Meese III is the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and Chairman of its Center for Legal & Judicial Studies. Mr. Meese served as the seventy-fifth Attorney General of the United States from 1985 to 1988. Mr. Meese originally delivered these remarks during Showcase Panel IV, entitled The Role of Government in Defining Our Culture, at the Federalist Society's 2006 National Lawyers Convention, on Saturday, November 18, 2006, in Washington, D.C.


Walter E. Dellinger III*

In January 1996, the Ninth Circuit decided Finley v. National Endowment for the Arts.1 I was acting Solicitor General at the time, and the issue came quickly to my desk, along with a visit from the Director of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the excellent actress Jane Alexander. The case involved the constitutionality of the Helms Amendment, which required that the NEA take decency into account in choosing who should be awarded artistic grants.2 Karen Finley was one of those whose expected grant did not get renewed after the decency criteria had been invoked.

The Ninth Circuit decision ruling against the NEA was, as you might imagine, welcomed with great enthusiasm by the NEA. They did not care for the Helms Amendment, and when the director came to me, she said happily, "We have this wonderful loss in the Ninth Circuit, and as your client, we'll be happy for this matter to end there. There will be no need to seek review in the Supreme Court." My response was that she and I were both employees or officers of the United States; that my client was the United States; the Congress spoke for the United States; and that we had an obligation to defend acts of Congress if they were defensible grounds for doing so.

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