Oct 8, 2020
When did confirming someone for a seat on the Supreme Court become a traumatic ordeal for the candidate and the nation? How did we get to the point where a nominee’s intelligence, character, and experience no longer suffice? Once again, these questions have forced themselves on the country’s attention in the confirmation process of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the opening created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Now, too, the novel coronavirus has added further uncertainty to the process, with several senators developing Covid-19. But the problematic nature of Supreme Court confirmation was a reality long before the virus came along.
It’s usually said that the bad times began in 1987 with President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork. Bork, a conservative legal scholar and federal judge, former U.S. Solicitor General, and former Acting Attorney General, was greeted with a ferocious mix of loathing and alarm by Senate liberals who determined to go all-out to defeat him.
Out front in the anti-Bork charge was Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who famously said on the Senate floor that Bork’s America was, among other things, a place where “women would be forced into back-alley abortions” and “blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.” Bork, a reserved man who later converted to Catholicism, said simply, “There was not a line of that speech that was accurate.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired at the time by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), sent Bork’s nomination to the full Senate with the recommendation that it be defeated, and the Senate obliged, voting 58-42 to reject Bork.