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Meese at Justice: continuation of conservative push

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There is likely to be more continuity than change in policy as Edwin Meese III takes over the US Department of Justice. Political and legal experts see these developments in the second presidential term: An even more vigorous effort to strengthen criminal law enforcement, including upgrading of federal relations with local police and tougher sentencing.

A continued conservative thrust in the area of states' rights and civil rights.

After a year-long probe into his ethics and financial dealings, and with the political controversy over his appointment still echoing from Capitol Hill, Mr. Meese was finally sworn in Monday as the 75th attorney general of the United States. The Senate had confirmed his appointment last week by a vote of 63 to 31, along party lines.

As he leaves the White House, where he was counsellor to the President, Meese is expected to pursue the broad policies of his predecessor, William French Smith. The former attorney general had already presided over deep changes in federal policy on civil rights, antitrust enforcement, and criminal justice -- moving the Justice Department to the right.

On the civil rights front, for example, the department has implemented the President's opposition to mandatory busing to achieve school desegration and to hiring or promotion quotas to remedy job discrimination. It has also narrowed its interpretation of the laws in connection with sex discrimination, housing discrimination, and the rights of the handicapped.

The department under Mr. Smith also revised the government's positions on antitrust law and gave high priority to the investigation of violent crime and the traffic in narcotics.

Because of his experience as deputy district attorney in Alameda County, Calif., it would be natural for Meese to focus heavily on law enforcement. ``He will see his goal as trying to bring more consistency and toughness in dealing with criminal law,'' says Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. ``So there will likely be an effort to broaden the network between the FBI and the local police, upgrade crime statistics, and so on.''

Beyond that, say political and legal experts, the Justice Department under Attorney General Meese will likely pursue conservative policies in the civil rights area even more combatively. Throughout the first Reagan term Meese, as White House counselor to the President, played an instrumental role in policymaking in the civil rights area, often drawing the ire of civil libertarians and political moderates.

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