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Dick Cheney, Ed Meese Reflect on US Vice Presidency at Law Review Symposium

April 10, 2016  | 3 min read

On Friday, April 1, Pepperdine Law Review hosted a discussion with one of the most influential and controversial U.S. Vice Presidents in history, Dick Cheney, as part of a symposium on “The United States Vice-Presidency: In History, Practice, and the Future.”

The event was organized by the Pepperdine Law Review Symposium Editor Robert Shapiro and Editor-In-Chief Andrew Kasabian. Robert Shapiro welcomed attendees with opening remarks, then was followed by faculty cosponsor Professor Douglas Kmiec, a renowned constitutional law scholar and former U.S. Ambassador to Malta under President Barack Obama. Kmiec described the intent of the symposium as being to examine a "greatly under-defined position."

"From its original inception to the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment and beyond, many questions continued to surround the Office of the Vice President," Kmiec said. "What did the founders envision as the vice president’s role? What is its place in the constitutional framework of government? What were the special characteristics of notable vice presidents? What is the future of the vice presidency? Could the office serve as an important tool in ending government gridlock?"

Opening Sessions

Kmiec's opening session then described "The Curious Original Intent of the Vice Presidency."

"The Vice President stands out as this person who doesn’t have a job function, who has only one explicit textual role in the Constitution, and that is the president of the Senate, that distinctive legislative role, or that he is the president in waiting in the event of death or disability, but other than that, it seems to be a greatly under-defined position,” Kmiec said.  “The Vice President is denied a vote in all cases except in the case of a tie, and one can assume in the case of a tie it is a matter of some considerable importance in the direction of the country.  It’s not an insignificant power that was given by the founders to the Vice Presidency.  When it is exercised, it is a power that is very, very key.”

University and School of Law Professor and Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian Edward J. Larson next reflected on the origins of the Office of the Vice President.

Conversation with Dick Cheney and Ed Meese

The morning speakers were followed by a conversation between Kmiec, Cheney, and former Attorney General Edwin Meese, III. The discussion began by highlighting the differing views held about the extent of the vice president’s executive power. According to the participants, one interpretation believes that the Constitution invests all executive power in the U.S. President; others say the vice president is also a component of the executive branch. Cheney spoke of his working relationship with former President George W. Bush, and the qualities a vice president should have.  “I think there’s only one criteria and that’s having the qualities necessary to step in at any moment, having the capacity and ability to be President of the United States,” Cheney said.

Meese and Cheney also reflected on the recent deaths of former First Lady Nancy Reagan and Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.  “Nancy Reagan was a very good wife, devoted to her husband, a tremendous source of strength to him,” Meese said. Cheney reflected on his good friendship with the late Justice Scalia.  “I think he played a major, major role in the history of American jurisprudence and is sadly going to be missed with his departure,” Cheney said.

In closing the discussion, Kmiec said, “Thomas Marshall, who was Vice President for Woodrow Wilson, told the story of two brothers who left a village – one went to sea, and one became Vice President.  Neither were ever heard from again.  Obviously, this is not the case here.  Thank you both.”

Afternoon Sessions

The remainder of the program featured several distinguished guest speakers: Dr. Jody Baumgartner, who spoke on “Vice Presidency in the 21st Century”; Shannen Coffin, partner at Steptoe & Johnson in Washington, D.C., and former Counsel to Vice President Cheney, speaking about the legal, political and operational perspectives on the modern vice presidency; and University of Illinois College of Law Dean Vikram Amar on “The Vice Presidency in Five (Sometimes) Easy Pieces.”

“I thought the symposium was a really unique blend of analyzing the history of our government and the development of laws that was very relevant to the current political climate,” said Rebecca Wicks, a third year law student and Associate Editor of the Law Review.  “It was also very exciting to get such prominent speakers at the law school. Dick Cheney provided a unique insight on the vice presidency that very few people are able to have, which made it an incredible opportunity to learn.”

“It’s not every day you get to see a former vice president speak in such an intimate setting,” agreed 3L Sean Olk.

Learn more

The event was filmed by C-SPAN and is also currently available for viewing on Pepperdine Law's Livestream site.

Janette Blair wrote this article, with contributions from Tom Inkel. Please address questions to comm@law.pepperdine.edu.

Pepperdine Law Review

The Pepperdine Law Review was founded in 1972 and is a scholarly law journal published by second and third-year law students at the Pepperdine University School of Law.  In its 40 years of existence, the Pepperdine Law Review has been a resource for practitioners, law professors, and judges alike and has been cited several times by the Supreme Court.