This column by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski was published January 26, 2011 on Townhall.com.
It’s a positive sign of the times that constitutional expert Mike Lee of Utah was elected to the U.S. Senate. To make full use of Senator Lee’s extraordinary knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell should appoint Senator Lee to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Lee may be the first of many, as there’s already a 2012 Senate candidate with credentials to match Senator Lee.
Mike Lee has credentials in constitutional law unmatched in the U.S. Senate. The son of former U.S. Solicitor General Rex Lee, Mike Lee graduated from BYU’s law school, where his father was the former dean. From there, Mike Lee clerked for a U.S. district judge, then for Sam Alito when Alito was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. When Judge Alito became Justice Alito, he brought Lee back, making him (to my knowledge) the only current member of the Senate to have clerked for a Supreme Court justice.
Having met Lee and having listened to his speeches, including a speech to lawyers at last year’s Federalist Society convention where Lee was addressing a professional legal audience, it’s clear he has a phenomenally sophisticated understanding of the Supreme Law of the Land. He easily and eloquently speaks about esoteric provisions of the Constitution such as the provision allowing Congress to issue letters of marque and reprisal.
(When’s the last time you found yourself in a conversation on that topic? Lee says when your father is Rex Lee, letters of marque was a dinner-table discussion topic in the Lee household.)
In a time where millions are rediscovering the Constitution, Senator Lee’s voice is a national asset. At age 39, he’s also a very young senator, who could be an outspoken educator on our Supreme Law for decades.
Given his superlative legal credentials, there’s one committee that we would all benefit from Lee serving on: the Senate Judiciary Committee. Just picture President Obama’s judicial nominees having to undergo rounds of detailed questions from Senator Lee during their confirmation hearings. And long after President Obama leaves office (hopefully in two years), Senator Lee could equally hold the feet of Supreme Court nominees from Republican presidents to the fire as well. The Constitution knows no party, and no would-be guardian of the Constitution should get a free pass on their way to a lifetime appointment.
Lee seems tailor-made for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Aside from Supreme Court nominees, every nominee to the federal appeals courts and the district courts go through that committee. Bills for reforming the courts or creating new judgeships go through that committee. Proposed constitutional amendments go through that committee. They also oversee the U.S. Justice Department. Each of these items has “Mike Lee” written all over it.
It should not be a problem for Lee that his senior colleague from Utah, Senator Orrin Hatch, also sits on the committee. (For that matter, Hatch is the former chairman of the committee.) Senator Hatch has served in the Senate since 1976, and is expected to run for reelection in 2012. Hatch has been a prominent authority on constitutional law throughout his tenure.
The Senate operates on seniority. The sooner Mike Lee has enough seniority under his belt to one day follow Hatch as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the better. Given Lee’s spectacular qualifications, the Republican caucus should welcome having both Utah senators on that committee.
And Lee should soon have company, because Ted Cruz has announced he’s running for the open U.S. Senate seat from Texas in 2012.
As impressive as Senator Lee’s constitutional credentials are, Cruz easily matches them. Ted Cruz is a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, who clerked for Judge Michael Luttig on the Fourth Circuit (a longtime Supreme Court frontrunner) and then for Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court. Cruz is the former Texas solicitor general, where he argued a number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including a major win for religious liberty in the 2005 case Van Orden v. Perry, and the 2008 state-sovereignty case Medellin v. Texas. He’s an unapologetic conservative and–in case you missed his name–he’s also Hispanic.
General Cruz is heavily favored to win this Senate seat. After that, Senator Cruz should likewise immediately be given a seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Currently age 40, the thought of Senators Lee and Cruz both on the Senate Judiciary Committee should make conservatives nothing short of giddy. In an age of judicial activism and significant turnover on the federal courts, America needs all the constitutional conservatives we can get in the U.S. Senate. For senators with such extraordinary credentials, it’s a no-brainer that they should be on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senators like Mike Lee are part of a new generation of conservatives, restoring fidelity to the Constitution in Washington’s corridors of power.