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

By Norman Vieira; Leonard Gross | Go to book overview

16
THE STRUGGLE OUTSIDE

Even as public opinion and the number of committed senators moved inexorably against confirmation, President Reagan was being urged to attack Democratic liberals and the "special interests" that had led the opposition to Bork. Conservatives like Terry Eastland, spokesman for the Department of Justice, believed that the battle for the Judiciary Committee had been lost by default and that the pro-Bork forces should not surrender without firing a shot.1 Bork himself met with White House aides in late September and criticized them for not doing enough to support his cause.2 The struggle outside the Senate would soon be joined, in anticipation of the debate on the Senate floor.

Some of President Reagan's advisers encouraged him to make a major television address vigorously criticizing the special interests that had "lynched" Robert Bork during the committee hearings. But the president decided on a more low-key approach. Rather than undertake a major ideological fight on the principles that Judge Bork represented, Reagan praised Bork as a moderate and hailed his firmness on crime and victim's rights, even though Bork had rarely spoken out on these issues.3 In a brief comment on October 6, Reagan said Bork's opponents had "made this a political contest by using tactics and distortions that I think are deplorable."4

It was not until it became clear that the Bork nomination had no chance of succeeding and the question was how to minimize the political damage of the impending defeat that Reagan adopted a more strident approach. In an address to the nation on October 14, he said, "The confirmation process became an ugly spectacle, marred by distortions and innuendoes, and casting aside the normal rules of decency and honesty."5 The new approach was partly a reaction to criticism from conservative senators that the White House had not done enough for Judge Bork.

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