Reagan, Ronald (1911–)

Author:John T. Noonan

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Born in Tampico, Illinois, brought up in Dixon, Illinois, a graduate of Eureka College, Illinois, Ronald Reagan came from the American Midwest, while his adult life was largely spent in California, leading to a classic California combination of midwestern seriousness of purpose and California casualness of style. Coming to maturity in 1932, he was first a convinced follower of FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, changing his political beliefs in response to his perceptions of communist infiltration in the late 1940s, and formally becoming a Republican only in 1962. A radio announcer as a young man, then an actor (playing in more than fifty motion pictures), then for three years an Army captain, then for five years president of the Screen Actors Guild, he became a spokesman for the General Electric Company, traveling nationally to speak to company employees and civic groups on domestic and patriotic themes. In 1966 he defeated five other candidates to win the Republican

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nomination for governor of California and was then elected over the incumbent Edmund Brown by a historic margin of nearly one million votes. He was easily reelected in 1970. His two terms as governor of the most populous state in the Union were marked by a dramatic reduction in the number of welfare recipients, a small increase in the number of state employees, and a large increase in the funding of higher education.

In 1976 he fell sixty votes short of defeating President GERALD R. FORD for the Republican nomination for the presidency. In 1980 he defeated five other candidates to capture the nomination, and he won the presidential election by a landslide of 489 electoral votes. In 1984 he was reelected, this time taking the votes of forty-nine of the fifty states and emerging in a position to put his stamp on the judiciary of the nation.

Three themes characterize President Reagan's approach to the Constitution. They are the necessity of moral virtue if American democracy is to work; the importance of FEDERALISM; and the guiding force of American practices approved by the Founding Fathers. These themes run through Reagan's public pronouncements on a variety of specific topics bearing on constitutional law. For example, he has seen the solution to the problem of curbing crime in America as first restoring a sense of moral seriousness to the criminal trial, so that it is not seen as a bureaucratized bargaining process. At the same time, he has criticized courts for taking on tasks for which they are unfitted and so slighting their essential role of determining guilt or innocence; and he has proposed legislation limiting the use of HABEAS CORPUS review of state courts by federal judges.


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