My former colleague Dave Weigel notes that Robert Bork has signed up as an adviser to Mitt Romney. And if that doesn’t scare the hell out of you, you haven’t paid much attention to Bork over the years. He also links to this column by Joe Nocero, which argues that the Bork confirmation hearings were “the end of civil discourse in politics.” To say that Nocero is full of crap would be an insult to crap.
The rejection of a Supreme Court nominee is unusual but not unheard of (see Clement Haynsworth Jr.). But rarely has a failed nominee had the pedigree — and intellectual firepower — of Bork. He had been a law professor at Yale, the solicitor general of the United States and, at the time Ronald Reagan tapped him for the court, a federal appeals court judge.
Moreover, Bork was a legal intellectual, a proponent of original intent and judicial restraint. The task of the judge, he once wrote, is “to discern how the framers’ values, defined in the context of the world they knew, apply to the world we know.” He said that Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, was a “wholly unjustifiable judicial usurpation” of authority that belonged to the states, that the court’s recent rulings on affirmative action were problematic and that the First Amendment didn’t apply to pornography.
Yes, Bork had impeccable legal credentials. But this glosses over more than just a bit. He didn’t just think the First Amendment didn’t apply to pornography; he thought the First Amendment didn’t apply to anything other than explicitly political speech. Artistic speech? Scientific speech? Literature? In Bork’s view, the First Amendment did not prohibit censorship of such things.
And he didn’t just think Roe v Wade was wrongly decided, he thought Griswold v Connecticut and Loving v Virginia were wrongly decided too. Gee, I can’t imagine why people criticized him and opposed his nomination.
I’ll take it one step further. The Bork fight, in some ways, was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics. For years afterward, conservatives seethed at the “systematic demonization” of Bork, recalls Clint Bolick, a longtime conservative legal activist. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution coined the angry verb “to bork,” which meant to destroy a nominee by whatever means necessary. When Republicans borked the Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright less than two years later, there wasn’t a trace of remorse, not after what the Democrats had done to Bork. The anger between Democrats and Republicans, the unwillingness to work together, the profound mistrust — the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.
Oh, nonsense. Both Bork and Wright deserved their fall from grace.