Most, though not all, of the public have short historical memories. But Republicans, whose party symbol is an elephant that’s reputed to have a long memory, can’t easily forget or forgive what happened to their nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 at the hands of a Democratic Senate.
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Robert Bork to the court. Arguably one of the keenest legal minds of his time, Bork had been a Yale Law School professor, U.S. solicitor general, acting attorney general and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Like deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, Bork was a conservative who believed in an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution: judges should exercise restraint in deciding cases and be guided by the framers’ understanding of that document.
Within 45 minutes of Bork’s nomination Sen. Ted Kennedy said this in a nationally televised speech: “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 censured at the whim of the government and the doors of federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator, presided ineptly over Bork’s personal destruction hearing. Bork’s nomination was defeated by a vote of 58 to 42. Only two Democrats voted in his favor.
Although President Donald Trump has not yet named his nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, liberals are already echoing Kennedy’s ludicrous charges.
Four years later when black conservative Judge Clarence Thomas was nominated for the court, feminist Florence Kennedy (no relation to Ted) addressed a conference of the National Organization for Women regarding Thomas’ nomination with these words: “We’re going to Bork him. We’re going to kill him politically. This little creep — where did he come from?” Thomas described his nomination ordeal as a “high-tech lynching for uppity black Americans who in any way deign to think for themselves.”
In 2002, the verb “bork” was added to the dictionary: to obstruct, especially a candidate for public office, through systematic defamation and vilification.
Predictably, only conservative nominees are subjected to such treatment, while more recent liberal nominees like Elena Kagan (no prior experience as a judge) and Sonia Sotomayor sailed through the nomination process with comfortable margins. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, probably the most liberal member of the court, received 96 yea votes for confirmation in 1993.
Twenty years after Bork, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote: “The Bork fight, in some ways, was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics. The anger between Democrats and Republicans, the unwillingness to work together, the profound distrust — the line from Bork to today’s politics is a straight line.”
Nocera added: “The next time a liberal asks why Republicans are so intransigent, you might suggest that the answer lies in the mirror.”
Bork’s nomination in 1987 precipitated the beginning of ugly in contemporary politics.
In the present climate of hate and hysteria, you can bet your last dollar that whomever Trump nominates from his list of some of the best, brightest and most qualified judges in this country, man or woman, will be in for the most brutal and savage personal attack in the annals of confirmation proceedings.
Considering that an unhinged left-wing man with anti-Republican sentiments critically injured Rep. Steve Scalise last year in a shooting during a congressional baseball practice, the possibility of physical harm to the nominee can’t be ruled out. Only a person with a brave heart and sterling character is willing to subject himself or herself to such visceral malice to serve on the court.
During the nomination process, Trump’s nominee will temporarily supplant the president as the archenemy of “The Resistance” because the nominee poses a greater long-term threat to the progressive agenda than a one- or two-term president; therefore, liberals will concentrate all of their resources and fury on blocking the nominee’s confirmation.
The Democratic Party also has a symbol — a donkey with a reputation for stubbornness — that originated from the 1828 campaign of Andrew Jackson when his political opponents called him a “jackass.”
Expect the nominee’s Democratic inquisitors to stay on script and act like jackasses.
Walter J. Eno lives in Scarborough.
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