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Utah Senator-Elect Mike Lee

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

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HH: I’m pleased to welcome for the first time to the Hugh Hewitt Show Senator-Elect Mike Lee from the great state of Utah, a new United States Senator that will be taking the oath next month. Senator Lee, welcome to the program, great to make your acquaintance.

ML: Thank you, Hugh, it’s good to be with you.

HH: You know, I knew your father a little bit. I was a special assistant to Bill Smith when I was a young briefcase carrier, and the S.G. Lee was quite the remarkable Supreme Court litigator. And he is much missed. I’m sure that must be part of the public service in your bones, huh?

ML: Yeah, my dad had quite an influence on my life, and we miss him a lot. He’s been gone now for about fourteen and a half years, and we’ve missed him every day he’s been gone.

HH: Have you got your committee assignments yet, Mike Lee? Is one of them Judiciary?

ML: We still don’t have committee assignments. I’m hoping that we might hear something within the next week, but it’s possible I won’t hear until next week.

HH: Would you welcome Judiciary?

ML: Oh, would I ever. I’d be thrilled to have that opportunity.

HH: It would be wonderful to have a Constitutional lawyer, and a former Supreme Court clerk and circuit court clerk on that committee. It would just add to it. I just talked in the first hour today with Lamar Smith, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee about judicial pay. As you know, Chief Justice Roberts puts out the state of the judiciary about this time every year. And federal judge pay is always a problem. Andy opinion on that going in, Mike Lee?

ML: Yeah, look, the Constitution says that we can’t diminish the compensation of Article III judges and Supreme Court justices during their time in office. And over time, when you fail to make the necessary adjustments, upward adjustments to their compensation, it has the effect, essentially, of cutting their pay. We’re not supposed to be able to do that. And in addition to that, there are policy reasons why you don’t want the salaries that you pay to your Article III judges and justices to be roughly competitive with what first and second year associates at law firms are making, you know, recent law school graduates. It’s insulting to the dignity of our justice system.

HH: Now I made the argument to Chairman Smith that originalists and Tea Party activists would not object to healthy pay for federal judges, because it keeps originalists in place, and it keeps an independent judiciary, and it’s a Constitutionalist’s approach. You are often said to be the first Tea Party senator. Do you agree with that assessment of what Tea Party activists would think about a hefty hike in judicial pay?

ML: Yeah, I wholeheartedly would support such a hike, and I think it’s entirely consistent with being a Tea Party man, and being a textual originalist. You see, bad things happen in government when the government starts doing things that it shouldn’t be doing. And it in the process usually stops doing the things that it is supposed to do. One of the few things the federal government is supposed to do is to establish a healthy independent judiciary. That can’t exist, and it won’t exist, as long as we don’t pay them adequately, and make sure that they’re taken care of well. And often times, I think we run into that risk as a result of the fact that our federal government has become too many things to too many people. And it shouldn’t be. It’s supposed to be focused on just a few basic things, one of which involves a judiciary.

HH: Talking with Senator-Elect Mike Lee from the great state of Utah. Senator, last week, I had on your soon-to-be colleague, Orrin Hatch, I’m sure a long time acquaintance of yours and a friend of the program going back a long time. And the buzz is that he will draw a primary challenger in Utah in 2012. What do you think of that, and what do you think of his likelihood of re-nomination and reelection?

ML: Well, you know, it’s way too early to speculate on what may happen in 2012. I can say only that I’ve known Senator Hatch for years, I look forward to working with him, and appreciate the fact that he’s been kind to me as I’ve been making the transition, been preparing to serve in the U.S. Senate. It is, however, far too early to speculate on what may happen two years from now. This is a very dynamic political climate, and things are changing constantly.

HH: What did you make of the lame duck session, especially watching, as you are, as a Senator-Elect, with the major arms control agreement of probably the first term that you will serve, being voted on by lame duck senators?

ML: Well, I was disappointed that they took that step. I was one of a couple of dozen incoming Senators-Elect who signed a letter to Senator Reid asking that they postpone any vote on the START treaty until after the newly-elected Senators had taken office. I was disappointed that they chose to go ahead and have that vote anyway, and I find that troubling. And I find the treaty itself troubling. I think there are some questions that haven’t been answered with regard to the treaty that are potentially very troubling.

HH: Now there is an effort among your colleagues across the aisles to alter the filibuster rules, to make it a simple majority. What do you make of that effort, and what do make of the filibuster generally?

ML: Well, you know, the U.S. Senate is perhaps the only legislative institution in the world in which a simple majority isn’t enough to pass ordinary legislation. And I honor that tradition. I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s been an effective safety valve to make sure that the country doesn’t go too far, too fast. And I will be naturally, instinctively, quite resistant to efforts to undo it. Now is it worth having a look at it, or having a look at whether there are points that can be clarified? Sure. But I’m not at all inclined to get rid of the rule.

HH: What about as to judicial nominees? I was one of those who urged the Senate to use the Constitutional option in 2005-06, because I really believe that the Constitution commits to the entire Senate the advice and consent process, not to a supermajority. But I know it has its role in legislation. Do you have an opinion yet on whether or not it’s legitimate to filibuster judicial nominees?

ML: Yeah, that’s one of the things I was referring to when I said if the effort is one to clarify instances where the filibuster may properly be invoked, and other instances where it shouldn’t be. I think that’s one area we ought to look at, because I think we can make a strong argument that the filibuster ought not apply with respect to judicial nominees. And so perhaps out of this discussion will come a rule clarifying that point. If so, I’ll be happy.

HH: What do you make of the election of November 2nd, Mike Lee, in terms of the message it sent to the entire country, from the entire country to President Obama? What was that message?

ML: I think it was an overwhelming message telling Congress, and telling the President, the federal government has grown too big and too expensive, because it’s doing too many things that it was not intended to do. And the federal government was set up, in essence, to take care of national defense, regulate trade between the states and with foreign nations, take care of immigration, and a few other distinctively national issue, reserving all other issues to the states. And I think that was the message it was sending. Now it was more muted in the Senate than it was in the House, but that’s because only a third of U.S. Senators are up for reelection every election year. We’ll see another message, I believe, even though it’s too early to call any individual race, I think at the macro level, we can fairly predict that we’ll see a continuation of that same messaging in the U.S. Senate in 2012.

HH: The DREAM Act almost passed at the conclusion of the last Senate. I talked with Chairman Smith about this as well. What’s your position, Senator Lee, Senator-Elect Lee, on residency status for illegals who have served in the military, and done, and have been honorably discharged after a tour of four years or so?

ML: Well, look, I think we have to be very, very careful whenever we start granting an immigration status benefit to someone who has been here illegally, who has come here illegally, and worked here illegally. There may be instances at the margins where we can say this warrants an exception. There are instances, for example, where we grant people asylum, even though they might not otherwise be entitled to emigrate here. That’s why asylum exists. Military service is materially different in my mind than just going to college and getting a degree.

HH: Amen.

ML: I think one could look at that, and the fact that it’s different doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a no-brainer. But because I think that the DREAM Act goes too far in the direction of encouraging additional illegal immigration, I would have voted against it.

HH: If there was a stripped down bill, though, that just conferred residency on illegals who had been honorably discharged after four years, do you think you could see your way to voting for that?

ML: I don’t know. I mean, if they come here illegally, it’s never been clear to me how they get involved in military service to begin with. The devil would have to be in the details on that one. If there ever were an exception to the general rule of not giving someone special status, that would be one to consider, but I’d have to look closely at the details. My gut reaction on anything that tells an illegal alien already here in the United States, we’re going to give you preferential treatment, treatment that is preferential above and beyond what someone would receive if they’re trying to apply for lawful immigration status outside the United States, that causes some great discomfort in me when I think that through. I don’t want to tell people look, there’s this long line, you’ve got to wait in this long line, but if you don’t want to wait in it, then you can break the rules, and jump over the turnstile, and cut in line in front of everyone else, and we’ll reward you at the end of the day? Because that’s punishing those good men and women who are outside the United States who are trying to go through the legal procedures to do that. It’s punishing them, and I don’t think that’s fair.

HH: Senator-Elect Mike Lee, thanks for spending some time with us. We look forward to talking to you many times in the next six years and beyond, a great pleasure having you in the United States Senate. Thanks, sir, and a happy new year to you.

End of interview.

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