Bench Memos

Larry Tribe’s (Belated) Mea Culpa

Prompted by Vice President Joe Biden’s recent announcement that he would not be a candidate for president in 2016, I was reminded of an episode from the past, when Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1987. Ronald Reagan was in the White House; Robert Bork had not yet been nominated for the Supreme Court. In February 1987, President Reagan nominated my friend, University of San Diego law professor Bernard H. Siegan to the Ninth Circuit. In a dress rehearsal for what was later to become known as “borking,” Biden and his liberal buddies in the legal establishment had a field day smearing Siegan. Harvard Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe paid a particularly ignominious role in this spectacle.

In a post on the Library of Law and Liberty, I recount how Tribe publicly trashed Siegan as “unfit to serve as a federal judge” (and later disparaged him in his treatise, American Constitutional Law). The Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately rejected Siegan’s nomination by a party-line vote. Tribe later reconsidered his assessment of Siegan and promised to correct his assessment of Siegan in the next edition of his treatise, which never came out. Siegan died in 2006, still waiting for Tribe to clear his name.

Siegan’s widow, Shelley, discovered the correspondence between her late husband and Tribe while sorting through Siegan’s effects. She contacted Tribe, who graciously apologized for his poisonous letter to Biden in 1987. In August 2007, more than 20 years after Tribe publicly defamed Siegan, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.) inserted Tribe’s long overdue apology in the Congressional Record after Biden failed to do so. Tribe showed some class by acknowledging his error in 1987; Biden never did.

Most Popular


Weirdo O’Rourke

Friends of the young Bill Clinton and Barack Obama spoke of the special glow of promise they had about them, even back in their early twenties. Angels sat on their shoulders. History gave them a wink and said, “Hey, good lookin’, I’ll be back to pick you up later.” Robert O’Rourke? Not so much. He ... Read More

Our Bankrupt Elite

Every element of the college admissions scandal, a.k.a “Operation Varsity Blues,” is fascinating. There are the players: the Yale dad who, implicated in a securities-fraud case, tipped the feds off to the caper; a shady high-school counselor turned admissions consultant; the 36-year-old Harvard grad who ... Read More

McCain at Annapolis

President Trump has been doing a lot of tweeting today -- against TV programs, companies, and other things that have incurred his displeasure. These tweets make for interesting reading. One of them is this: So it was indeed (just proven in court papers) “last in his class” (Annapolis) John McCain that sent ... Read More
Health Care

David Brooks Forgets to Oppose Some Suicides

The well-meaning David Brooks urges us to prevent suicide in his most recent New York Times column. The crisis is certainly real. From "How to Fight Suicide:": You’ve probably seen the recent statistics about the suicide epidemic — that suicide rates over all have risen by over 30 percent this century; ... Read More