Today is the 20th anniversary of the Senate’s rejection of Judge Robert Bork for a place on the U. S. Supreme Court.
Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy led the opposition to Bork. He’s a sample of the kinds of things Kennedy was shouting about Bork:
"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, school children could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens of whom the judiciary is — and is often the only — protector of the individual rights that are at the heart of our democracy."Kennedy said and did a lot worse but you get the idea.
Kennedy’s tactics and statements attacking Bork were such that “a Borking” is new understood to be the character assignation of a public figure with the intent of denying the person a position of public trust for which the person is well qualified.
Gary McDowell, a professor at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond writes in todays WJS:
Twenty years ago today the United States Senate voted to reject President Reagan's nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court.There’s more to McDowell’s op-ed. You can read it here.
The senators may have had every reason to believe that was the end of the story. However ugly it had been, however much time it had taken, Mr. Bork's defeat was only one more routine sacrifice to partisan politics. But time would prove wrong anyone who actually thought that.
The battle over Mr. Bork was politically transformative, its constitutional lessons enduring.
To many at the time (and still today) it was inconceivable that a man of Mr. Bork's professional accomplishments and personal character could be found unacceptable for a seat on the Court.
Warren Burger summed it up for many when he described Mr. Bork as simply the best qualified nominee in the former chief justice's own professional lifetime--a span of years that included the appointments of such judicial luminaries as Benjamin Cardozo, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter. Such praise was no empty exaggeration.
A former Yale law professor and U.S. Solicitor General, Mr. Bork was, at the time of his nomination, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
When he was a circuit court judge, Mr. Bork's opinions not only were never overruled on appeal, but on several occasions his dissents were adopted by the Supreme Court as its majority view.
In an earlier day such an appointment would have been celebrated as adding breadth, depth and luster to the highest bench. Instead, the nominee faced a mauling by those who set out not only to destroy him personally but to discredit all that he stood for as a jurist.
I’m not sure which way history will head in the next few hundred years. Traditional values and the love of country without which America can’t survive and prosper are today under fierce attack from without and within.
If we lose the America which most of us love but take for granted, the people who will then be in charge of writing history will regard October 23, 1987 as a great day and Ted Kennedy as its hero, just as many Democrats do now.