Before Sonia Sotomayor and before John Roberts there was Robert Bork. I was living out of the country in 1987, when Borked got “Borked” by the Dems and Arlen Specter, but I remember reading about the battle and occasionally seeing TV clips of Bork’s testimony.
But it was not until I picked up “Battle for Justice,” a well-written, very fair book by NY Times editor Ethan Bronner that I knew there were some Mormon angles to Bork’s life.
The first angle came early in Bork’s career when he worked for a prominent Chicago law firm. A man who happened to be Jewish came for an interview, and another associate overheard a partner saying they couldn’t hire him because of the “Jewish quota.” The firm already had too many Jews. That associate, none other than future Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks, came to Bork to protest the Jewish quota. Bork’s first wife was Jewish, and Bork and Oaks successfully convinced the firm to end the Jewish quota and hire the man.
So, here we have a young Mormon attorney and Robert Bork fighting against anti-semitism. Pretty cool.
The other interesting angle was that the Reagan administration’s second choice — after Bork — for the 1987 Supreme Court opening was…Orrin Hatch, the Mormon senator from Utah. Liberal groups at that time hated Hatch and were very afraid he would be impossible to oppose because of senatorial courtesy. But Bork was the most prominent conservative jurist at the time, and Hatch never got a chance to be nominated.
So, in the 1980s, we actually had a chance to have the first Mormon Supreme Court justice. After Bork was defeated, Pres. Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy, a much more moderate justice who was not as much of a lightning rod for liberal opposition. As you may know, Kennedy has been a true centrist on the Supreme Court and is still there.
Anybody interested in the Sotomayor nomination or indeed interested in the Supreme Court in general should re-read about Bork’s unsuccessful nomination. Conservatives feel Bork was unfairly treated, and it is true that at least half the things written and said about Bork were gross distortions of his record.
But reading the history also shows that Bork’s worst enemy was himself. His testimony at the senate hearings was inconsistent and rambling. If you compare Bork’s testimony to John Roberts or Sam Alito, you see a huge contrast — Bork was pompous and combative, whereas Roberts and Alito were scholarly and non-controversial. Both Roberts and Alito have turned out to be just as conservative — and more effective — than Bork would have been.
Still, Bork was clearly qualified for the court and did not deserve being turned down, any more than Sotomayor deserves to be voted down now. Elections have consequences, and Pres. Reagan should have been able to put his man on the Supreme Court, just as Pres. Obama should be allowed to put his woman on the court. So, I hope we as a nation have learned something from the Bork nomination.