ICYMI: Paul Clement awarded 2023 Edwin Meese Award

During the 2023 National Policy Conference, RNLA presented former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement with this year’s Hon. Edwin Meese III Award. The Meese Award is bestowed on an individual who has upheld the rule of law in the face of adverse political challenges.

Gen. Clement joked that he received the award “largely because I can’t keep a job” as he has left several law firms when they refused to continue representing conservative clients. But he did this because, as an attorney, “if you are not unpopular with somebody, you aren’t in litigation.”

Gen. Clement exhorted those in attendance—the legal profession is not a business; it is a profession.

Unfortunately, some of the large law firms have lost sight of the fact that in our efforts to do so well and be so profitable that we still are at the bottom a profession. And if we lose that we lose something incredibly important.

He continued:

After all, one of the great professional paragons is the representation of a capital defendant. Capital defendants are typically accused of killing somebody, and you don’t say ‘That is awful, we are not going to represent them.’ In the same way that is built into the profession. And we seem to have migrated from ‘Of course lawyers represent unpopular clients’ to ‘Of course big law firms are not going to represent certain unpopular clients.’

Gen. Clement reminded everyone that questioning the legitimacy of the court is a "dangerous game to be playing" and that the legitimacy of the court has been slowly built up over centuries. And the news outlets and law schools are not helping the Court in this regard. However:

The Court is doing something quite different from politics by other means. Yesterday is a perfect example. The Supreme Court decided five cases yesterday. None of them were front-page news, and none of them were inherently the cases that everybody was waiting for. So, there were two criminal cases where the Court decided in favor of the criminal defendant unanimously. There was an immigration case where the immigration side of the case also prevailed more or less unanimously. There was a case about sovereign immunity in the scope of a waiver of sovereign immunity that was decided eight and one. And then, there was a case about the pork producers. The one that got the most attention. That case was decided five four. The four dissenting Justices were the Chief Justice, Justice Alito, Justice Kavanaugh, and Justice Jackson. So, the Justices on the right were divided and the justices on the left were divided. It is a perfect talking point whether you like the decision or not. A perfect talking point to explain why the Justices are actually doing something that the other two political branches are not.

Gen. Clement finished by stating one final time:

We are professionals and we need to reaffirm that commitment as members of the bar. To defend the legitimacy of the Court even when they rule against us. And I think it is incumbent on us to explain to nonlawyers that the courts, even when we don’t like the decisions, are doing something that is not just politics by other means. We also need to reaffirm our commitment to the first amendment and respect speech we disagree with and hit speech with more speech which is always the best solution. And the last thing we need to do is reaffirm our commitment to the separation of powers and if we can get rid of chevron in the process, that would be a day well spent.

You can watch the full video of Gen. Clement’s speech here.