Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Luncheon for the Supreme Court Justices

October 01, 1982

Mr. Chief Justice and Associate Justices, we're grateful to you for joining us here at this luncheon marking the start of the October term of 1982 of the Supreme Court. This house is honored by your presence, and I'm honored to be your host.

My lawyers have warned me that one has to be extra careful not to exceed the limits in time in front of the Supreme Court. So, I will try to be brief.

I'm told that in the early days of our history it was the practice of the Justices to come to the White House to advise the President that they had survived the rigors of stagecoaches and horseback, and so forth, and had actually made it back to Washington so the October term could start. Now, later this became a kind of a traditional visit in memory of those more rigorous times. But in recent years we understand it's only been sporadically observed. So, I'm pleased that we can renew this special tradition, and, hopefully, we can establish it firmly enough that it will continue.

Americans have grown used, I think, to the role of the Court in our constitutional system. And, perhaps, we take for granted things that other persons in other times would find extraordinary. Certainly, I know that the Supreme Court of the United States is the only group of men—and now men and women—in history that has exercised significant authority over such a long period of time without having need for battalions of fighting men to enforce their decisions. I think it's a healthy reflection of the fact that the vast majority of our citizens respect and abide by the decisions of the judiciary as a matter of course.

Now, this isn't to say, of course, that we'll always agree on the important issues that are presented to you for decision. But we take a little comfort in the fact that the Court, itself, is frequently of more than one mind about such matters. And it's neither surprising nor disturbing that our citizens may at times side with the dissenters. It's even rumored that Presidents sometimes disagree with particular Supreme Court decisions. It's inevitable that the Court's decisions become the focus of popular attention and debate, and, certainly, our Founding Fathers expected nothing different.

But about one point, at least, there can be no disagreement whatsoever: The Supreme Court must continue to demonstrate the independence and integrity that have always been its hallmarks. You, as members of the Court, are the principal guardians of those traditions under the rights and freedoms of all Americans.

On behalf of all our people, I would just like to say thank you for the distinguished service that you've given to our country. And I would especially like to thank you for your dedication to the idea that is carved above your doorway: "Equal Justice Under Law."

May God grant each of you a rich measure of His grace and wisdom as you face the challenges of the times.

And, now, if you will indulge me a bit further, there's actually another occasion worthy of special note today; that is the birthday of Justice William Rehnquist. Now, I've never been one to comment on the ages of public officials— [laughter] —I might say that if anyone

[At this point, the orchestra played "Happy Birthday. "]

I don't know and I won't reveal, but I just make one suggestion, having reached a point where I have found that this is much more comforting to me, and that is there comes a point in which if instead of celebrating birthdays you celebrate the anniversary of your 39th birthday, it's easier to bear. [Laughter] Happy birthday or happy anniversary, whichever you choose. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 1:02 p.m. in the State Dining Boom at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Luncheon for the Supreme Court Justices Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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