The Corner

Remember Bork

there is so, so much in that Miller piece you want to read right now. And don’t forget this, particularly relevant:

Specter’s biggest impact probably has come on the Judiciary Committee. That makes sense, because he was a prominent lawyer before arriving in Washington. In addition to his work on the Warren Commission, he was twice elected district attorney in Philadelphia, where he earned a tough-on-crime reputation. On the Judiciary Committee, he has been tough on Republican judicial nominees. In 1986, Ronald Reagan selected Jeff Sessions of Alabama for the federal bench, but Specter joined his Democratic colleagues in defeating the nomination — it was only the second time the Judiciary Committee had turned down a nominee since the FDR era. Attorney general Ed Meese called it “an appalling surrender to the politics of ideology.” Sessions didn’t vanish from public life; in 1996, he was elected to the Senate. Now he sits with Specter on the Judiciary Committee. The two men don’t talk about what passed between them 17 years ago, but Specter admits he made a mistake: “I’ve gotten to know him. I regret my vote.”

Specter doesn’t regret a more famous vote that took place the following year, on the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork. This was a watershed moment in Washington politics, when left-wing histrionics began to play a leading role in judicial confirmations — and the term “borking” was born. Bork had an impeccable record as a law professor and judge, but the debate over his nomination was dominated by the fevered rhetoric of his enemies, who said that confirming him would condemn women to back-alley abortions and blacks to segregated lunch counters. Fresh from his first re-election a few months earlier, Specter couldn’t make up his mind about what to do. He questioned Bork for hours in his private chambers and at public hearings. In the end, he decided to vote against confirmation. “He called and said that he couldn’t be sure about me,” says Bork.

“I’ve never known what he meant by that.” Specter’s announcement doomed the nomination. As Bork lobbyist Tom Korologos put it at the time: “Specter hit the game-winning RBI.” Conservatives, of course, resent that he was batting for the wrong team.

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