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


Religious Supremacism on the Rise Against Marriage Equality
This is a crosspost of an op-ed I recently published at LGBTQ Nation.  -- FC Christian right undermines marriage equality with religious supremacism FREDERICK......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
The Author of Loathing Lincoln Explains Why Some on the Christian Right Loathe Lincoln
One under-reported result of the 2014 elections was the rise of Neo-Confederate politics in the U.S. This included the election of unabashed apologist for......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
A Catholic Theocracy Grows in Florida
Catholic Right pizza mogul Tom Monaghan and his Ave Maria School of Law are back in the news.  Journalist Eleanor Bader has a new......
By Frederick Clarkson (6 comments)
Mississippi Madness: Group Wants To Designate An Official Religion
A group in Mississippi is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to change the state constitution in several ways.The proposal put forth by the......
By Rob Boston (5 comments)
I Stand Sunday Part 2
I Stand Sunday took place in Houston, Nov. 2, 2014, motivated by the cities' mayor who subpoenaed sermons from local pastors.  The host church......
By wilkyjr (1 comment)
I Stand Sunday Part 2
I Stand Sunday took place in Houston, Nov. 2, 2014, motivated by the city's mayor who subpoenaed sermons from local pastors.  The host church......
By wilkyjr (0 comments)
Houston's I Stand Sunday
In response to Houston's gay mayor's solicitation of church sermons, on Nov. 2, 2014, Houston Texas will host an I Stand Sunday.  The event,......
By wilkyjr (2 comments)
Real Religious Liberty is Not Oppression
This is a reposting of an op-ed I recently published at LGBTQ Nation -- FC Real Religious Liberty is not Oppression FREDERICK CLARKSON Senior......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Houston Mayor Ignites Fervor of Religious Right
The best take on Houston Mayor Annise Parker vs. the churches in her city is the story written by Marv Knox in the Baptist......
By wilkyjr (2 comments)
Four Stories
LGBTQ Nation   In my first bi-weekly column on religious liberty, I discuss how  "Religious liberty is a progressive and liberatory value, over which......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Christian Right Voter Mobilization -- The Season Finale
One of the secrets of the success of the Christian Right over the years has been that opponents have taken the movement with insufficient......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Sins Of Omission: When Religious Right Leaders Speak, The Whole Truth Is Often Left Behind
When an individual doesn't feel like being absolutely truthful, there are a couple of things he or she can do. One is to simply......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
Bishop Finn Under Vatican Investigation
Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri has long been a symbol of the ongoing institutional intransigence in addressing......
By Frank Cocozzelli (4 comments)
"The $1-Billion-a-Year [Religious] Right-Wing Conspiracy You Haven't Heard Of"
In honor of the 2014 incarnation of the event known as The Gathering, I've given an interview with Jay Michaelson, writing for the Daily......
By Bruce Wilson (5 comments)
(Un)Fantastic Five: A Remembrance Of Values Voter Summits Past
The Religious Right's annual "Values Voter Summit" (VVS) takes place this weekend. Americans United staffers Simon Brown, Sarah Jones and I will be there.......
By Rob Boston (7 comments)

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 (2 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 (4 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 (4 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 (1 comment)
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)
Eugene Delgaudio may lose his day job as Virginia county supervisor
Surprised no one's noticed this, but one of the nation's most virulent homophobes is in a fight to keep his day job.  Eugene Delgaudio is best known as the head of Public Advocate......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents
This caught me by surprise. I guess times are a changin in Dixieland. ------------------------------------- Cross posted from the HRC blog. Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents January 21,......
COinMS (0 comments)
Robert Knight: Running against evolution could potentially be a winner for the GOP
In one of the starkest instances yet of how far gone the religious right is, one of its leading activists thinks that he's found another potential wedge issue that could drive more people into......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
First Catholic official convicted in child sex abuse scandal has conviction overturned
Last year, Monsignor William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secretary for clergy, was convicted of reassigning a priest whom he knew had molested a young boy to a parish that had a school attached......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Quotes From Sarah Palin 'War on Christmas" Book v. Quotes From 1920s Anti-Jewish Propaganda
The point of this comparison is not to cast Sarah Palin as a Nazi. Rather, my intent is to underline uncomfortable similarities between contemporary "war on Christmas" talking points propagated by elements of the......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Francis sets up commission on how to deal with pedophile priests
Late yesterday Pope Francis announced--apparently after some prodding--that he will set up a panel to advise him on how to deal with child abuse by priests. The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the......
Christian Dem in NC (0 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.