People For the American Way

Right Recalls Bork Battle While Trump Judges Are Making ‘Bork’s America’ a Harsh Reality

News and Analysis

This post was originally published on Right Wing Watch.

“Justice on Trial,” a new book by conservative pundit Mollie Hemingway and right-wing judicial activist Carrie Severino, purports to tell what the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal calls “the true, behind-the-scenes story of the Kavanaugh confirmation” and National Review calls the “media-Democratic collusion” behind opposition to Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.” Not surprisingly, the book is getting a boost from right-wing pundits and organizations. One promotional post in particular stood out to us, because it invoked People For the American Way’s 1987 TV ad opposing the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, which featured actor Gregory Peck.

The Hemingway-Severino book recalls the “disastrous confirmation battle” that led to a bipartisan rejection of Bork’s nomination, saying it galvanized a generation of conservative lawyers and jurists who viewed the “scurrilous attacks” on Bork as “unconscionable.” On Saturday, the Media Research Center’s “NewsBusters” blog featured a post about the book and looked back at Peck’s “attack on Robert Bork.” MRC is an organization founded by right-wing activist Brent Bozell III that for years before Trump came on the scene was telling conservatives, “Don’t believe the liberal media.”

Shortly after Bork’s nomination was announced, Sen. Ted Kennedy made a strong speech in opposition, which included this:

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit as 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 at the heart of our democracy.

Kennedy’s speech was grounded in Bork’s own record. But Hemingway and Severino call Kennedy’s speech “shockingly vicious” and “completely unfair.” In the same section of their book, they refer to People For the American Way’s anti-Bork ad as if it were something nefarious, but they do not claim that anything in it was inaccurate. Neither does the MRC post, which says Peck’s statements “mirrored the image Kennedy presented of Bork, and it proved devastating.” Here’s what Peck said about Bork’s record:

Robert Bork wants to be a Supreme Court justice. But the record shows that he has a strange idea of what justice is. He defended poll taxes and literacy tests, which kept many Americans from voting. He opposed the civil rights law that ended ‘whites only’ signs at lunch counters. He doesn’t believe the Constitution protects your right to privacy. And he thinks that freedom of speech does not apply to literature and art and music.

Right-wing activists—with the help of the media they denounce—have had some success in turning “bork” into a verb synonymous with unfair criticism. But in fact, the televised days-long Bork hearings were probably the best, most in-depth discussion of the Constitution that many Americans had ever seen. And they revealed Bork’s extremism, leading to his defeat by a wide bipartisan margin.

Unfortunately, today’s Republican Party has moved far to the right of the GOP of the 1980s, and Republican senators are routinely confirming unqualified, narrow-minded elitists to the bench in spite of horrifyingly abysmal records—even nominees who aren’t willing to agree that the historic civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided.

While Kennedy’s “Bork’s America” speech has long been vilified by the right, People For the American Way Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg recently documented that Trump’s judicial nominees are well on their way to making Bork’s America a reality in Trump’s America, with their assaults on abortion rights, civil rights, and more.

In fact, as Mincberg noted, judges nominated by Trump and confirmed by Mitch McConnell’s Republicans have “also approved other alarming conduct, sometimes committed by the Trump administration itself, which Robert Bork and Ted Kennedy had not even contemplated.”

PFAW’s Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears report series continues to document the damage being done to judges put on the bench by Trump and Senate Republicans. As Mincberg concluded:

Thanks to the defeat of Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination, we have not yet lived in Bork’s America. But adherents of the right-wing legal ideology he represented are today supplying Trump with hundreds of potential judges and Supreme Court nominees. As a result, Trump’s America could well be even worse. With more Senate votes ahead on Trump’s lifetime judicial nominees – and with elections for the president and Congress next year – Americans must act if we are to escape the worst of Trump’s America in the future.