Bring it on.
Even allowing for fading memories, there is a good deal of misinformation being thrown around about what actually happened in 1987. “Senate Democrats and a few Republicans united to filibuster the nomination,” according to a recent story in the conservative Washington Examiner. Not so. It was as far from a filibuster as is possible to imagine. Despite having voted 9 to 5 to reject the nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Bork’s name to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote, which the White House and the nominee insisted on. The vote was 58 to 42 to reject the nomination. There was never the hint of a filibuster.
What he said
The confirmation hearing itself, presided over by Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a senator and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, lasted for a spellbinding week. The senators questioned Bork extensively about his academic writing, his speeches and his opinions for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to which President Reagan had appointed him (along with Antonin Scalia) as a justice-in-waiting. Bork answered their questions, at length. His problem wasn’t that he didn’t get a chance to explain himself. It was that a majority of the Senate, including six Republicans who voted against him, didn’t like what he said.
At its heart, the Bork battle was really a struggle over where, in the last quarter of 20th-century America, the mainstream of constitutional understanding was to be found. The confirmation process became a referendum on the constitutional status quo; as brilliantly formulated by the Bork opposition, the question was whether the public wanted to “turn back the clock” on women’s rights and the hard-won achievements of the civil rights movement. By speaking derisively about the constitutional right to privacy, the nominee played into the opposition’s strategy, which was to avoid a debate over abortion by using the less polarizing “privacy” as a stand-in. Clearly, Bork regarded Roe v. Wade as illegitimate. The campaign against him was intended to suggest that his views threatened other rights to intimate choices that people took for granted regardless of their views on abortion.
The New York Times