Supreme Court Appointments: Judge Bork and the Politicization of Senate Confirmations

By Norman Vieira; Leonard Gross | Go to book overview

II
ETHICAL QUESTIONS: WATERGATE REVISITED

Judge Bork's nomination came to the Senate amid widely published reports of the nominee's reputation for integrity and intellectual honesty. The only known blemish on Bork's record at the time of the nomination involved the dismissal of Archibald Cox as special prosecutor during the investigation of Watergate offenses. Despite repeated efforts by Bork to explain his decision to fire Cox, critics like Senator Kennedy continued to charge that "the man who fired Archibald Cox" was unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.1 Although another charge of misconduct would surface briefly during the confirmation process,2 Watergate remained the focus of attention for ethical questions throughout the hearings.

Allegations of ethical misconduct have provided fertile ground for derailing Supreme Court nominees in recent years. The nomination of Judge Clement Haynsworth offers a good example. Judge Haynsworth was defeated by Senate Democrats in 1969, at least in part, because of charges of ethical improprieties. Haynsworth had been a shareholder and officer of Vend-a-Matic, a corporation that had substantial contracts for its vending machines with a textile conglomerate called Deering Milliken. While serving on the federal court of appeals, Judge Haynsworth had cast the deciding vote in a case involving Darlington Mills, a Deering subsidiary, and much was made of this indiscretion by Haynsworth's opponents in the Senate.3

But there is substantial evidence that ideology, not ethics, was at the root of Democratic opposition to Haynsworth. Shortly after the Haynsworth and Carswell nominations were defeated, President Nixon nominated Judge Harry Blackmun to the vacant seat on the Supreme

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