It also changed the nature of the highest judicial appointments in America from taking the best and the brightest to the quietest and most pliable.
Bork, who died last week at the age of 85, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to replace retiring Justice Lewis Powell. By any conceivable legal standard, Bork was eminently qualified to take a seat on the highest court. As an Appellate Judge he wrote the majority of the judgments for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia from 1982 to 1988 without once having a decision overturned by the Supreme Court. His Achilles Heel was that he was outspoken.
|President Ronald Reagan with Robert Bork|
After almost two full presidential terms of Ronald Reagan riding roughshod over the Democrats, and with another election looming, Ted Kennedy and his party decided to flex their muscles to try to reassert their place in the power sphere. Bork was the opportunity they saw to get there.
Bork was publicly vilified, lied about and ultimately rejected as a Supreme Court justice. And though they won the battle, it was a Pyrrhic victory. An enduing, spiralling, petty tit-for-tat in Congress has lasted for the last quarter century that has made cooperation between the Republicans and Democrats increasingly difficult.
And since 1987, Presidents knew that strong, publicly stated opinions of outstanding legal minds would make them assailable to the vicious, unfounded attacks launched by Kennedy and his colleagues against Bork. So less forthright, less brilliant, and less vulnerable jurists who were quietly vetted by presidential administrations became Supreme Court appointees.
Bork's defeat became America's open wound.
With his death, now might be an appropriate time to look back and see if there is a way to start healing a still debilitated process.