Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ted Kennedy: "Robert Bork's America"

UPDATE, December 19, 2012: Robert Bork, R.I.P.

Time for a reality check.

On June 23, 1987, Ted Kennedy made a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Although brief, Kennedy's words transformed American politics.

It marked the beginning of an ugly era of personal destruction.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

It was a Kennedy speech about the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court on July 1, 1987, that began to dramatically shift the culture of judicial nomination fights in the Senate.

Anticipating that President Reagan might nominate Judge Bork to the Supreme Court, Kennedy and his staff began ramping up for a bit of fire and brimstone on the Senate floor that came to be known as “Robert Bork’s America.”

...It was a first volley in a fight that quickly turned and bitter. In the end, the Senate rejected the Bork nomination, but the bitterness persists in the nomination process to this day.

Here's the transcript of Kennedy's "Robert Bork's America."
Mr. President, I oppose the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, and I urge the Senate to reject it.

In the Watergate scandal of 1973, two distinguished Republicans — Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus — put integrity and the Constitution ahead of loyalty to a corrupt President. They refused to do Richard Nixon's dirty work, and they refused to obey his order to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. The deed devolved on Solicitor General Robert Bork, who executed the unconscionable assignment that has become one of the darkest chapters for the rule of law in American history.

That act — later ruled illegal by a Federal court — is sufficient, by itself, to disqualify Mr. Bork from this new position to which he has been nominated. The man who fired Archibald Cox does not deserve to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Mr. Bork should also be rejected by the Senate because he stands for an extremist view of the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court that would have placed him outside the mainstream of American constitutional jurisprudence in the 1960s, let alone the 1980s. He opposed the Public Accommodations Civil Rights Act of 1964. He opposed the one-man one-vote decision of the Supreme Court the same year. He has said that the First Amendment applies only to political speech, not literature or works of art or scientific expression.

Under the twin pressures of academic rejection and the prospect of Senate rejection, Mr. Bork subsequently retracted the most neanderthal of these views on civil rights and the first amendment. But his mind-set is no less ominous today.

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 would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

America is a better and freer nation than Robert Bork thinks. Yet in the current delicate balance of the Supreme Court, his rigid ideology will tip the scales of justice against the kind of country America is and ought to be.

The damage that President Reagan will do through this nomination, if it is not rejected by the Senate, could live on far beyond the end of his presidential term. President Reagan is still our President. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate, and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and on the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.

This is part of Ted Kennedy's legacy. Reality.

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