Monday, October 22, 2012
Robert Bork’s nomination to the US Supreme Court was rejected by the Senate 25 years ago tomorrow, October 23. As it happens, I was on the floor of the Senate during the debate on Bork’s nomination and the vote--I spent my junior year of high school as the chief Republican page in the Senate. A mild-mannered moderate Republican senator remarked privately after the vote that Washington would never be the same, a point New York Times columnist Joe Nocera made (“The Ugliness Started with Bork”) last year. Adam White has a thoughtful and provocative essay at Commentary going over the history of the nomination and its legacy in constitutional law. As then-Professor Elena Kagan observed in her 1995 review in the University of Chicago Law Review of Stephen Carter’s The Confirmation Mess:
The Bork hearings presented to the public a serious discussion of the meaning of the Constitution, the role of the Court, and the views of the nominee; that discussion at once educated the public and allowed it to determine whether the nominee would move the Court in the proper direction. Subsequent hearings have presented to the public a vapid and hollow charade, in which repetition of platitudes has replaced discussion of viewpoints and personal anecdotes have supplanted legal analysis. Such hearings serve little educative function, except perhaps to reinforce lessons of cynicism that citizens often glean from government. Neither can such hearings contribute toward an evaluation of the Court and a determination whether the nominee would make it a better or worse institution. A process so empty may seem ever so tidy--muted, polite, and restrained--but all that good order comes at great cost.