Rove Says the Tide Is Running in Conservatives’ Favor

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Times Staff Writer

Karl Rove, deputy White House chief of staff and President Bush’s longtime political strategist, denounced liberal judges Thursday for engaging in “judicial imperialism” and told conservative activists that reform of the federal judiciary was on the way, led by the Supreme Court’s new chief justice, John G. Roberts Jr.

“The wind and tide are running in our favor,” Rove said in a speech before about 1,500 lawyers and their guests that also predicted Senate confirmation of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to succeed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the high court.

In a 25-minute address delivered in a monotone that belied his tough rhetoric, Rove excoriated state courts around the country and singled out the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the highest court in that state, for having upheld same-sex marriage.


But the man Bush dubbed “the architect” of his reelection victory reserved his harshest language for the federal judiciary, which he said was “fundamentally out of touch” with mainstream America.

Rove castigated the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for ruling in 2002 that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. He also criticized a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court for having ruled this year that “national consensus” prohibited the imposition of the death penalty on murderers who committed their crimes before age 18 -- even though 20 states had laws on the books that permitted such executions and 18 states had laws banning them.

“These attempts, and many, many more ... have led to widespread concern about our courts,” said Rove, who noted that he was the only nonlawyer on the internal White House panel that considers judicial nominees. But he added that more than 200 of Bush’s nominees to the federal bench have been confirmed and added: “In America, conservatives are winning the battle of ideas on almost every front.”

Rove’s remarks came on the first day of the annual convention of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, an influential conservative organization founded by law students, legal scholars and political activists in 1982.

Panelists and speakers at the society’s three-day convention, which opened Thursday, include such leading conservatives as Kenneth W. Starr, who investigated President Clinton as a special prosecutor and is now dean of the Pepperdine University law school; Edwin Meese III, who served as attorney general in the Reagan administration; Robert H. Bork, the former appellate judge whose Supreme Court nomination was rejected by the Senate in 1987; and two federal appellate judges who have been on recent short lists for a Supreme Court seat, Edith Hollan Jones and Edith Brown Clement.

Rove’s appearance before an admittedly friendly audience Thursday night -- he was greeted with an ovation as he entered the ballroom -- marked somewhat of a return to the spotlight for the beleaguered White House advisor, who has been implicated in the leak that unmasked undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.


Late last month, another senior White House aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, resigned his position after being indicted in that case on charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice.

Rove’s name has come up in the leak case investigation, and it is not certain that he will escape indictment. But even as some Republicans are openly questioning his effectiveness, he appears to be launching a counteroffensive.

“For Rove to maintain his viability, he has to project a ‘business as usual’ image, be visible and avoid at any cost the perception that he’s hunkering down in his office waiting for the other shoe to drop, or that he’s no longer a big player,” said Charlie Cook, an independent political analyst.

Even behind the scenes, Rove is actively engaged in preparing Bush’s 2006 agenda and his State of the Union address early next year.

“I saw Karl last weekend. He was as confident as I’ve ever seen him -- planning a lot of things for next year,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican media strategist who worked on Bush’s two presidential campaigns and remains a member of the president’s inner circle.

On Wednesday night, Rove attended a gala dinner in honor of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last week, he spoke to a group of Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.


By contrast, in the run-up to Tuesday’s elections, Rove canceled several political appearances on behalf of Republican candidates. He also did not travel with Bush to Latin America last week.