Measure Of Justice: Remembering The Battle Over Robert Bork
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 10:39:00 AM EST

I know it's not considered polite to speak ill of the dead, but I'm going to bend that rule today to comment on Robert H. Bork, the former federal appeals court judge and failed Supreme Court candidate who died yesterday.

Those of you who have been following church-state issues for a long time might recall that President Ronald W. Reagan nominated Bork to replace Justice Lewis Powell in the summer of 1987. Bork held extremely conservative - some might say reactionary - views, and the possibility of his elevation to the highest court in the land alarmed many groups.

So Bork opponents formed a coalition. Americans United was in the thick of the fight, and we noted that Bork's views on separation of church and state were far out of the mainstream. Our allies at People For the American Way examined Bork's speeches and writings and concluded in a report that he would "take a sledgehammer to the wall of separation between church and state."

One anecdote is telling: During a 1985 appearance at the Brookings Institution, Bork was asked about his belief that government-sponsored school prayer is not a violation of the First Amendment. A Baptist minister told Bork about a Jewish friend who was uncomfortable because he was pressured to take part in Christian worship in public schools. Did Bork not see the problem here?

Apparently not. Bork's reply was a flip, "So what? I'm sure he got over it."

Religious Right groups were very enthusiastic over the possibility of Bork joining the high court. The Rev. Jerry Falwell said the Bork nomination "may be our last chance to influence this most important body."

The Catholic League, the Heritage Foundation, Concerned Women for America, the Eagle Forum and other groups formed a pro-Bork caucus. The stage was set for a battle royal.

The atmosphere in the Senate grew heated at times. A defining moment came when U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) stood on the Senate floor and delivered a speech titled "Robert Bork's America." In less than 500 words, Kennedy demolished the mask of moderation Reagan had tried to paste on Bork.

By the time Bork's nomination came up for a vote On Oct. 23, 1987, the only question left was the margin of his defeat. It was 58-42.

After the vote, Reagan nominated Douglas H. Ginsburg, also a federal appeals court judge. But stories soon surfaced that Ginsburg had smoked marijuana in the 1960s and `70s, and this was enough to force his withdrawal.

The third time proved to be the charm for Reagan. He nominated Anthony M. Kennedy, a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Kennedy won confirmation easily and remains on the Supreme Court today.

Kennedy's record on church-state separation has been decidedly mixed. Early in his tenure, he called for "substantial revision" of the high court's church-state rulings. But he surprised everyone in 1992 by authoring a powerful opinion in Lee v. Weisman, which struck down coercive, school-sponsored prayers during graduation ceremonies.

Kennedy has also moderated his views on social issues over the years. In 2003, he wrote the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated a Texas law banning consensual same-sex acts between adults.

What are the chances Bork would have ruled this way? Less than slim. In his best-selling 1996 book Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, Bork wrote, "If all traces of taint are removed, if homosexuality is made to seem completely normal, a matter of indifference to anyone else or to society, young men and women uncertain of their sexuality will be that much more likely to be drawn into a homosexual life."

Kennedy is far from perfect - he supported private school vouchers in 2002's Zelman v. Simmons-Harris - but he's right at least some of the time. Bork would have been wrong every time. After he was rejected for a seat on the court, Bork grew increasingly bitter and adopted even more extreme views. I heard him speak at a few Religious Right gatherings. To be frank, his views were so far out on the fringe that he scared me.

Bork failed to understand the basic structure of American government. In Slouching Toward Gomorrah, Bork advocated amending the Constitution to allow a super-majority of Congress to nullify Supreme Court rulings. Imagine how that would have worked out in, say, 1954 in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education.

I'm sure there are people who loved Bork and are mourning his loss. My condolences to them. But his death should not prevent us from stating what has become obvious 25 years after the fact: The man was an extremist who did not belong on the Supreme Court.

The fact that Bork was kept off the court is a reminder of what advocates of church-state separation can do if they work together. Let's keep it up.




Display:
If only a similar coalition could have been successful in opposing Clarence Thomas' nomination.

by MLouise on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 05:51:42 PM EST


WWW Talk To Action


The Religious Bigotry of Rick Santorum
Now that Rick Santorum has announced that he is running for president, again, it is worth reminding ourselves that he is a coarsely obvious......
By Frederick Clarkson (23 comments)
Thoughts on the Finale of the Finn Debacle
Now that Bishop Robert Finn has finally resigned his leadership of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri -- here are some final thoughts......
By Frank Cocozzelli (3 comments)
DeVos and School Privatization Funders Backing Philadelphia Democratic Mayoral Candidate
The Betsy DeVos-led American Federation for Children (AFC) and its core funders have spent more than fifteen million dollars in Pennsylvania over the last......
By Rachel Tabachnick (2 comments)
Religious Right Rabbi: Christian Coalition Favorite Daniel Lapin Resurfaces
Back in the 1990s when I was regularly covering the antics of TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, one part of the job was......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
Christian Right leaders escalate anti-LGBTQ threats
As marriage equality has advanced around the country, and the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on the issue in June, threatening language......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Could Support for LGBTQ Rights Disrupt the Coalition of Jews and Evangelical Christian Zionists?
Some might say that the relationship between the conservative US Jewish community and Evangelicals is inviolable, with support for Israel being the cement that......
By Bill Berkowitz (1 comment)
Whine Festival: Second-Tier Religious Right Leaders Still Don't Like Marriage Equality
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Obergefell v. Hodges, the marriage equality case.In preparation for this, a sad collection of......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
Whither the Christian Right in the Democratic Party?
You don't have to be a Hillary hater (and I'm not) to recognize that Clinton and other Democratic Party leaders have had long and......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Bishop Robert Finn Resigns Leadership of St. Joseph-Kansas City Diocese
Bishop Robert W. Finn, the Opus Dei Bishop who was convicted by a Missouri court for failing to report suspected child abuse by a......
By Frank Cocozzelli (5 comments)
Two Overlooked Indiana Outcomes that Could Haunt the Christian Right
I think there are two underreported features of the fallout from Indiana that we should make sure do not get lost in the hoo......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Terms, Definitions & Glossaries for Writing about the Religious Right
One of the challenges in writing about the Religious Right and what to do about it is the matter of terms and definitions. That's......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
President Obama Can Help Stop Religious Discrimination
Barry Lynn, the longtime executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, recently posted an important essay at Huffington Post. In......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Marriage Matters: Thoughts On The Recent Unpleasantness In Indiana
Last week I taped an interview with Sister Maureen Fielder, host of "Interfaith Voices," a popular radio program exploring religious issues that is carried......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
The Campaign Against Pro-LGBTQ Denominations
The recent endorsement of marriage equality by the Presbyterian Church (USA) seemed like a good moment to discuss the campaign to divide and conquer......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Upcoming Conference: From Abortion Rights to Social Justice
The 29th annual conference From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom will be held from April 10-12 at Hampshire......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)

Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (0 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (0 comments)
Evangelicals Seduced By Ayn Rand Worship Crypto-Satanism, Suggest Scholars
[update: also see my closely related stories, "Crypto-Cultists" and "Cranks": The Video Paul Ryan Hoped Would Go Away, and The Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand/Satanism Connection Made Simple] "I give people Ayn Rand with trappings" -......
Bruce Wilson (10 comments)
Ted Cruz Anointed By Pastor Who Says Jesus Opposed Minimum Wage, and Constitution Based on the Bible
In the video below, from a July 19-20th, 2013 pastor's rally at a Marriott Hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, Tea Party potentate Ted Cruz is blessed by religious right leader David Barton, who claims......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Galt and God: Ayn Randians and Christian Rightists Expand Ties
Ayn Rand's followers find themselves sharing a lot of common ground with the Christian Right these days. The Tea Party, with its stress on righteous liberty and a robust form of capitalism, has been......
JSanford (3 comments)
Witchhunts in Africa and the U.S.A.
Nigerian human rights activist Leo Igwe has recently written at least two blog posts about how some African Pentecostal churches are sending missionaries to Europe and the U.S.A. in an attempt to "re-evangelize the......
Diane Vera (1 comment)
Charles Taze Russell and John Hagee
No doubt exists that Texas mega-church Pastor John Hagee would be loathe to be associated with the theology of Pastor C.T. Russell (wrongly credited with founding the Jehovah's Witnesses) but their theological orbits, while......
COinMS (0 comments)
A death among the common people ... imagination.
Or maybe my title would better fit as “Laws, Books, where to find, and the people who trust them.”What a society we've become!The wise ones tell us over and over how the more things......
Arthur Ruger (0 comments)
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
This is part 6 of a series by guest front pager Mahanoy, originally dated November 15, 2007 which I had to delete and repost for technical reasons. It is referred to in this post,......
Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (5 comments)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (5 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (5 comments)
Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Yes, that's right. We have totally lost our religious freedom in Mississippi and it must be restored by our legislators. ......
COinMS (2 comments)
Bill Gothard accused of harassing women and failing to report child abuse
Surprised no one's mentioned this, but one of the longest-standing leaders of the religious right is in a world of trouble.  Bill Gothard has been active in the fundie movement for over half......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.