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Edwin Meese III

  • Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus

Edwin Meese III, the prominent conservative leader, thinker and elder statesman, continues a quarter-century formal association with The Heritage Foundation as the leading think tank’s Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus.

In that capacity, Meese oversees special projects and acts as an ambassador for Heritage within the conservative movement.

Meese was chairman of Heritage’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies from its founding in 2001 until what he calls his “semi-retirement” on Feb. 1, 2013.

He joined Heritage in 1988 as the think tank's first Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow -- the only policy chair in the country to be officially named for the 40th president. His work focused on keeping President Reagan’s legacy of conservative principles alive in public debate and discourse.

The legal center now bears his name, in recognition of Meese’s contributions to the rule of law and the nation’s understanding of constitutional law. Its mission is to educate government officials, the media and the public about the Constitution and legal principles -- and how they affect public policy.

Perhaps best known as U.S. attorney general during Reagan’s second term, Meese’s service to the conservative icon stretched from the California governor’s mansion in 1966 to the White House in 1981 before he went to the Department of Justice four years later.

His Heritage “hats” kept Meese among the major conservative voices in national policy debates at an age when most men and women enjoyed quiet retirements.

In 2006, for example, Meese was named to the Iraq Study Group, a special presidential commission dedicated to examining the best resolutions for America's involvement in Iraq. In the past few years he wrote and spoke about constitutional topics ranging from religious liberty to the responsibility of Supreme Court justices.

Immediately after Reagan's death in 2004, and in the years since, Meese often agreed to major media appearances to discuss the lasting impact of his old friend, mentor and boss. He has summarized the Reagan legacy in three accomplishments: Reagan cut taxes and kept them low. He worked to defeat and end the Soviet Union and its worldwide push for communism. And he restored America's faith in itself after years of failure and "malaise."

"I admired him as a leader and cherish his friendship," Meese wrote in a 2004 essay for Heritage members and supporters. "Ronald Reagan had strong convictions. He was committed to the principles that had led to the founding of our nation. And he had the courage to follow his convictions against all odds."

Edwin Meese III was born Dec. 2, 1931, to Edwin Jr. and Leone Meese in Oakland, Calif. He graduated from Yale University in 1953 and holds a law degree from the University of California-Berkeley.

Meese spent much of his adult life working for Reagan, first after the former actor, sports announcer and athlete was elected as California’s governor in 1966 and then when he sought and won the presidency in 1980.

Reagan never forgot Meese's loyalty and hard work. During a press conference at which reporters questioned Meese's actions at the Justice Department, Reagan replied: "If Ed Meese is not a good man, there are no good men."

During the Reagan governorship, Meese served as executive assistant and chief of staff from 1969 through 1974 and as legal affairs secretary from 1967 through 1968. He previously was deputy district attorney in Alameda County, Calif.

From January 1981 to February 1985, Meese held the position of counsellor to the president -- the senior job on the White House staff -- and functioned as Reagan's chief policy adviser. In 1985, he received Government Executive magazine's annual award for excellence in management.

Meese served as the 75th attorney general of the United States from February 1985 to August 1988. As the nation's chief law enforcement officer, he directed the Justice Department and led international efforts to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime.

Meese’s relationship with Heritage began when he met with senior management to discuss the think tank's landmark policy guide, Mandate for Leadership, prepared for the incoming administration. Meese later recalled that Reagan personally handed out copies of the 1,093-page book to members of his Cabinet and asked them to read it. Nearly two-thirds of Mandate's 2,000 recommendations would be adopted or attempted by the Reagan administration.

More than a decade after joining Heritage, Meese assumed the chairmanship of its Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. Under his guidance, the center counseled White House staffers, Justice Department officials and Senate Judiciary Committee members on the importance of filling judicial vacancies with qualified men and women who are committed to interpreting the Constitution according to the founding document's original meaning.

The center became known for hosting "moot court" practice sessions to sharpen the arguments of attorneys slated to bring important cases before the Supreme Court. Those cases addressed constitutional issues ranging from property rights to racial preferences in primary and secondary schools to restrictions on free speech in campaign finance law.

Meese headed the legal center's Advisory Board for the writing and editing of the best-selling book, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution (Regnery, 2005). In it, 109 experts walked readers through a clause-by-clause analysis of the Constitution. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was among those keeping the reference work handy during Judiciary Committee hearings on Supreme Court nominees.

Meese's other books include “Leadership, Ethics and Policing” (Prentice Hall, 2004); Making America Safer” (Heritage, 1997); and “With Reagan: The Inside Story” (Regnery Gateway, 1992).He wrote the Introduction to a well-received 2010 book on the “overcriminalization” trend, “One Nation Under Arrest,” by Heritage veterans Paul Rosenzweig and Brian W. Walsh.

He also is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California and lectures, writes and consults throughout the United States on a variety of subjects.

As both attorney general and counsellor to Reagan, Meese was a member of the Cabinet and the National Security Council. He served as chairman of the Domestic Policy Council and the National Drug Policy Board. After Reagan won the White House in the 1980 election, Meese headed the transition team. During the campaign, he was the Reagan-Bush Committee's senior official.

Meese had a career outside government and politics. From 1977 to 1981, he was a law professor at the University of San Diego, where he also directed the Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Management.

He was an executive in the aerospace and transportation industry as vice president for administration of Rohr Industries Inc. in Chula Vista, Calif. He left Rohr to return to the practice of law, doing corporate and general work in San Diego County.

A retired colonel in the Army Reserve, Meese remains active in numerous civic and educational organizations.

He and his wife, Ursula, have two grown children and reside in McLean, Va.

All Publications by Edwin Meese III