WASHINGTON — Rudy Giuliani assured a conservative legal group Friday that if elected president he would appoint federal judges who adhere to their principles. He also praised a judge who declared the capital city's gun ban unconstitutional and ridiculed efforts to eliminate the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.
In a speech marking the 25th anniversary of the Federalist Society, Giuliani spelled out a conservative legal agenda in which he cited Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts as models for the judges he would appoint to the federal bench.
He contended that Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards, as president, would select judges who were "activists and try to legislate social policy."
"We're seeking to find judges who understand the very, very important concept that judges exist to interpret the law, not to invent the law," he said.
Giuliani has been held suspect by some conservatives because as mayor of New York he backed some gun control laws and has supported a woman's right to abortion. He has sought to alleviate those concerns, aligning himself with legal conservatives such as former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who introduced him at Friday's gathering.
Giuliani was the only presidential candidate to speak to the group, a testament to his close ties to Olson and other prominent members of the organization. Several of them are advising his campaign and have served as a bulwark for Giuliani against criticism from social conservatives.
He also said that as president he would demand that the Senate change its rules for confirming federal judges, decrying the filibusters that blocked some of President Bush's appointees and the atmosphere at nominating hearings dating back to the failed nomination of Robert Bork.
He argued that nominees should be judged on their qualifications, honesty and integrity, not their judicial philosophy. He said such a standard should apply whether the president is a Republican, nominating conservative judges, or a Democrat nominating liberal judges.
Giuliani did not mention his Republican rivals, but did make a joke at Clinton's expense. He suggested she be inducted into the Federalist Society because in addressing a question about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, Clinton at one point indicated that it was a decision best left to the states.
"This is the only time in her career that she has decided anything should be decided on a state-by-state basis," he said to an audience that strongly advocates states' rights. "And you know something, she picked out absolutely the wrong one."
Giuliani portrayed the United States in Reaganesque terms _ an optimistic vision of a country with a preordained mission.
"There are some people I think nowadays that doubt that America has a special, even a divinely inspired role in the world," he said. "Now I don't understand how you can look at history and not see the wisdom of that and the reality of it."
He said that from its beginnings, the United States fought tyranny and oppression and would do so again.
"It was this nation that saved the world from the two great tyrannies of the 20th century, Nazism and Communism," he said. "It's this country that's going to save civilization from Islamic terrorism."
While Giuliani was the only candidate to speak at the Federalist meeting, Fred Thompson's supporters distributed fliers advertising an afternoon reception sponsored by "Lawyers for Fred" at a Washington law office. Two of the founders of the Federalist Society, Spencer Abraham and David McIntosh, are Thompson supporters.