Ronald Wilson Reagan Part 99

President and Nancy Reagan with Prince Charles and Princess Diana in the Yellow Oval room. 11/9/85.

Ronald Reagan – The Presidential Years Part 1 of 4

Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation wrote an excellent article on Ronald Reagan and the events that transpired during the Reagan administration,  and I wanted to share it with you. Here is the 12th portion:

Reagan’s most dramatic defeat came in 1987 when he nominated Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.[xli] Bork’s confirmation became an ugly battle against liberal organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the AFL-CIO, and People for the American Way. One analyst put the cost of the anti-Bork media campaign at $15 million.[xlii]

Although the American Bar Association rated Bork “well qualified,” the ACLU called him “unfit.” Senator Edward Kennedy, who led the Senate fight against the conservative jurist, charged that Bork’s nomination would lead to an America where women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police would break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, school children would not be taught about evolution, writers and authors could be censored at the whim of government and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.[xliii]

Not since 1964 and LBJ’s Anti-Campaign against Barry Goldwater had a conservative been subjected to so fierce and unfair an attack. The Boston Globe’s Supreme Court correspondent wrote that Kennedy “shamelessly twisted Bork’s world view.”[xliv]

Bork’s nomination dominated the political agenda in the late summer and early fall of 1987. His five days of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee were nationally televised. Former President Gerald Ford personally introduced the nominee to the committee. Former President Jimmy Carter then sent a letter stating his opposition. One hundred and ten witnesses appeared for and against Bork during two weeks of hearings. Finally, the Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee refused by a vote of 9-5 to recommend Bork’s nomination. The Senate then voted 58-42 against confirmation: six moderate Republicans broke party ranks and voted with fifty-two Democrats against Bork while two Democrats voted for Bork. Liberals loudly celebrated their victory, but soon after, Reagan nominated and won confirmation of a lower-keyed conservative, Anthony M. Kennedy.

Several factors combined to deny Robert Bork a seat on the Supreme Court: a strongly partisan Democratic Senate, a president weakened by the Iran-contra affair, a White House that did not launch its nomination campaign early enough, a liberal opposition that was better organized and financed than the conservative support, and a nominee who was often contentious and contradictory in his testimony. But ultimately Bork was rejected because of his view that the Constitution was “the Founders’ Constitution” bound by original intent and not a “living document” susceptible to the interpretation of current justices.[xlv] Today, however, Bork’s traditional view of the Constitution is increasingly articulated by a majority of the Supreme Court.

Although Bork’s defeat was a major setback for the Reagan administration, it could not negate Reagan’s significant legal legacy of a conservative federal judiciary from top to bottom. “Reagan’s success lies not simply in quantity but quality,” concluded conservative author Terry Eastland, who worked in the administration’s Justice department. Indeed, Reagan’s judges, according to biographer Lou Cannon, “ranked above [those of] Carter, Ford, Nixon and Johnson.”[xlvi]

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