When Reagan nominated Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, he made things pretty easy for his Democratic critics. Before becoming a nominee, Bork had
May 6, 2008

When Reagan nominated Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, he made things pretty easy for his Democratic critics. Before becoming a nominee, Bork had said or written all kinds of bizarre and scary things. Once his hearings began, Bork could have distanced himself from his record, but instead he tried to justify his body of unhinged right-wing work, as anyone with confidence in his or her beliefs might.

So, when Ted Kennedy noted, for example, that Bork supported a law that imposed a poll tax on voters, Bork acknowledged his position and said, “It was only $1.50.”

I mention this because John McCain spoke this morning on his commitment to nominating conservative judges to the federal bench if elected president. Bork’s name didn’t come up in his speech, of course, but so long as McCain’s intentions with regards to the judiciary are on the front-burner today, let’s take a closer look at the 1987 speech McCain delivered on the Senate floor on Bork’s behalf.

“I would like to explain why I am going to vote of favor of confirmation [of Robert Bork], and why I do so without any hesitation … I believe that what the Senate should appropriately examine in a nominee are: Integrity and character, legal competence, and philosophy and judicial temperament. I believe Robert Bork is well qualified in all four respects … Judge Bork’s honesty, integrity, and diligence are above reproach … [he] demonstrates that he is not some intellectual ‘loose cannon on deck,’ or a quixotic maverick jurist , but is a thoughtful, reasonable, jurist … [he] is hardly a radical, but is rather a very thoughtful judge in synch with the vast majority of his colleagues on the bench. […]

“First, and most importantly, is the question of Judge Bork’s view of the role of the judiciary. Judge Bork is clearly a believer in judicial restraint. He believes that the courts should not create social policy or arbitrate social policy disputes unless the Constitution clearly speaks to the issues. He believes that in our republican form of government such decisions are properly left to legislatures elected by the people, not Federal judges appointed for life. I have no problem with that view, because I wholeheartedly agree with it."

I realize 1987 was a while ago (I was 14 during the Bork hearings), and many may have forgotten the judicial record McCain was defending so enthusiastically.
Back in 2005, Jonathan Chait had an item on Bork that is no longer online.

The funny thing is that the memory of the campaign to demonize Bork as a right-wing nut has grown stronger even as the intervening years have shown quite clearly that Bork is, in fact, a right-wing nut.

The most famous hyperbolic charge against Bork — one which has been invoked far more often against Bork’s accusers than it ever was against Bork — was Sen. Ted Kennedy’s claim that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters,” etc., etc.

This was far from the sort of fair summation of the totality of Bork’s legal philosophy that you might find at a law school seminar. But it wasn’t exactly false either. Bork had criticized the portion of the Civil Rights Act banning discrimination in public accommodations, argued against extending the equal protection of the 14th Amendment to women, took an extremely restrictive view of free speech, and so on.

And while Bork’s record was drawing public scrutiny, McCain went out of his way to insist that Bork “is hardly a radical,” and not at all a “loose cannon,” but actually just a “thoughtful, reasonable, jurist.” McCain said he “wholeheartedly” agreed with Bork’s role of the judiciary.

And now McCain wants to appoint Supreme Court justices of his own. Something to think about.

Can you help us out?

For nearly 20 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.