Changing Times

Almost 20 years ago, President Reagan nominated Robert Bork, then a circuit judge for the United States Court or Appeals for the District of Columbia, to the Supreme Court.

The Left, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), was up in arms.

I recall this rather vividly because I was, in those days, a reporter in the Washington bureau of The New York Times. One day I got a tip: A “War Room” had been set up in an undisclosed location on Capitol Hill. And then my tipster disclosed the location to me. I found the place — filled with Democratic staffers and their allies from various left-wing groups plotting and planning ways to tar Bork in the public eye.

I probably spent a good four to six minutes in the War Room before I was unceremoniously tossed out. But I believe I got a nice, little story out of it.

In this War Room were developed the pointed questions that Democratic Senators would pose to Judge Bork. Also, perhaps, in this War Room was written drafts of Senator Kennedy’s famous speech, the one in which he charged: “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government.”

My guess is the Senator Kennedy doesn’t quite understand why the speeches he has made this time around have not had the same effect they had 20 years ago.

Nor have the various slanders against Sam Alito: On a radio show today, Bob Wiener, a Democratic strategist, railed at me that Alito “favors strip-searches” of young girls.

Maybe all this suggests Republicans have learned something over the past couple of decades. Or maybe the public has. In any case, maybe it is no longer so easy to “Bork” a nominee. (Clarence Thomas, of course, was Borked, too – which tarnished his image but ultimately did not lead to his exclusion from the Court.)

Also worth recalling: One of the issues raised by Judge Bork’s detractors was his video rental history – which was leaked to the press. This, from Senator Kennedy & Co., a wing of the Democratic Party which today is exercised about the possibility that intelligence officers are monitoring the library computer usage and phone calls of terrorists. (For the record: Bork did not rent any terribly controversial videos.)

On Oct. 23, 1987, the Senate rejected Bork’s confirmation by a 58-42 vote. The seat on the court he was denied went to the much more liberal Anthony Kennedy.

Clifford D. May — Clifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...