James L. Buckley, the former U.S. senator and federal judge who for 40 years advanced the conservative cause in all three branches of the federal government, last night received the Clare Boothe Luce Award, which is The Heritage Foundation’s highest honor for contributions to the movement.
“Jim Buckley has devoted his life to defending the same constitutional principles of liberty, prosperity and civil society that Heritage pledged to champion from our inception,” Heritage President Edwin J. Feulner (left) said before the ceremony during the annual President’s Club meeting in the nation’s capital.
Heritage Chairman Thomas A. Saunders III (right), reading from a Board of Trustees resolution bestowing the Luce Award, recalled Buckley’s key roles to a dinner crowd of more than 1,300 at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park, who gave the guest of honor a standing ovation:
Through your careers as military officer, entrepreneur, statesman, legislator, jurist and citizen, you have personified the Jeffersonian ideal of service to your country. Most important, you have done so with dignity, humility and unfailing devotion to the principles of freedom.
Buckley, 87, of Sharon, Conn., is the brother of the late William F. Buckley, founder of National Review and also a Luce Award recipient. Over the years, Heritage presented the award to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Richard and Helen DeVos.
Buckley represented New York in the U.S. Senate for one term after his 1970 election as the Conservative Party candidate. He joined President Reagan’s administration in 1981 as the State Department official in charge of security, science and technology. He was president of Radio Free Europe from 1982 to 1985, when Reagan appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He became a senior judge in 1996, and ceased hearing cases in 2000.
National Review noted of Buckley the jurist: “In a word, Buckley is a textualist, and believes judges need mostly to look to the text of the statute (or Constitution) when interpreting the law. As a former senator, he was well equipped to understand the pitfalls of relying on legislative history.”
Fred J. Eckert, a friend and fellow legislator, wrote for Copley News Service: “He was a judge who followed the law and the Constitution, not his own whims.”
Buckley got his law degree from Yale after serving in the Navy during World War II and being discharged with the rank of lieutenant. He has written that he made his most memorable contribution to American politics when he took the 1974 campaign finance reform law to the Supreme Court. As lead plaintiff in Buckley v. Valeo, he challenged the constitutionality of a cap on individual contributions. In 1976, the high court struck down significant parts of the Federal Election Campaign Act and established strict limits on the government’s ability to regulate political activity.
In a speech marking the 25th anniversary of his court filing, Buckley said:
I am persuaded that in the case of elected officials, the overwhelming temptation is to conclude that it is more important for your constituents that you be re-elected than that you deal honestly with them. Hence the frequency with which legislators will yield to political pressures or expediency and vote against their convictions, especially when they can salve tender consciences by persuading themselves that a principled vote would not have affected the outcome. Given the difficulty of resisting such temptations over the longer run, a proper concern for the welfare of congressional souls may well be the ultimate argument in favor of term limitations.
Buckley’s new book, “Freedom at Risk: Reflections on Politics, Liberty and the State” (Encounter), collects essays and speeches spanning 40 years in public service and makes his case for preserving America’s constitutional government. Buckley will talk about the book’s themes in a public event Jan. 13 at Heritage hosted by Executive Vice President Phillip Truluck.
Co-authored by Mark Chenoweth.
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