On March 22 the Ethics and Public Policy Center welcomed M. Edward Whelan III as its fifth president. An attorney and a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Whelan has served in positions of responsibility in all three branches of the federal government, most recently as the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice. He has also worked as general counsel to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, as a senior vice president of Verizon Corporation, and as a lawyer in private practice. Whelan holds a B.A. degree from Harvard College and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He succeeds Hillel Fradkin, who continues to head EPPC’s programs on Islam and American Democracy, Jewish Studies, and Foreign Affairs.
Newsletter editor Jacqueline Stark interviewed Whelan about his plans for EPPC.
Jacqueline Stark: You’ve made a dramatic career shift. What made you decide to set aside a successful legal career to become president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center?
Ed Whelan: At bottom, the generous package of EPPC stock options was impossible to turn down. But to be serious, I decided to join EPPC because I believe deeply in its mission of transforming culture through the world of ideas—specifically, by exploring and explaining how our Judeo-Christian heritage ought to inform our understanding of critical issues of domestic and foreign policy. Our society is rapidly depleting the moral capital built up over the centuries. I want to do what I can to help rebuild a healthy culture for my children’s generation.
In this effort, ideas matter. Just as bad ideas, lies, and muddled thinking have wreaked horrific consequences, good ideas, truth, and clear thinking are needed to repair the damage. Through its superb scholars, EPPC is powerfully engaged in the battle of ideas, in the vigorous pursuit and promotion of essential truths. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute my best to this endeavor. I would be delighted to be in this same job ten or twenty years from now.
JS: What do you hope to accomplish as president?
EW: The Center has a great tradition of excellence, and I aim to continue and enhance that tradition. EPPC occupies a unique place in the world of public-policy think tanks, and our scholars will continue to probe deeply how the lessons of the Judeo-Christian tradition bear on the cutting-edge issues of today. At the same time, I’m intent on finding ways to amplify our scholars’ voices and to increase their influence. The Internet offers creative new opportunities to multiply our message, and our website (www.eppc.org) should become an even better vehicle for disseminating ideas and information. We need to work hard to get the most bang for the buck.
JS: Will the election campaign affect the work of EPPC?
EW: This fall presents a presidential election of historic consequence, and EPPC will strive to contribute to the public understanding of the deeper issues at stake. In particular, we are planning a series of high-impact events between Labor Day and Election Day that will examine the competing concepts of freedom that underlie the candidates’ positions on a broad range of critical matters: What is the nature of marriage and the family? Should terrorism be treated as an act of war to be preempted and countered by military means, or as a crime to be detected and prosecuted according to the usual rules of law enforcement? In a constitutional republic, does the Constitution constrain the judiciary, or do judges have free rein to construe the Constitution to mean whatever they want it to mean? What should be the future of the U.S.-Europe relationship? These are examples of the sorts of issues we intend to explore. We will develop a communications strategy that ensures maximum exposure for our conferences and papers.
JS: How will your legal background and your expertise in constitutional law fit with EPPC’s work?
EW: I’m developing a program on the Constitution and the courts, which includes the nature and effects of judicial activism. One area of particular interest to me is how judicial decisions affect our culture. Another area of concern is the Supreme Court’s increasing reliance on foreign and international legal authorities in interpreting the Constitution. I also intend to explore the arguments for and against the President’s marriage amendment. Unfortunately, there are more than enough problems in the legal culture to tend to.
More generally, I think that my legal and governmental experience will provide an even tighter nexus between EPPC’s public-policy thinking and the real world that we are trying to influence.