Thursday, May 29, 2014

"The Tempting of America", by Robert H. Bork

This book was published in 1990, a scant three years after Bork's ignominious defeat in the Senate for his Supreme Court nomination. It is obvious that Bork is using this book as an attempt to present his view of constitutional jurisprudence, and to hopefully rehabilitate his discredited views which led to such an embarrassing defeat.

The problem is that the book is virtually unreadable. I bought the book because I genuinely wanted to try to understand Bork's views. Instead, I found nothing informative or enlightening in it. In thinking back on Bork's hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I realize that this was exactly Bork's problem at that time; he simply has no communication skills, no people skills, and could not communicate his views in an understandable way to anybody. When asked a question, instead of answering forthrightly, Bork would grimace, fidget around, look up at the ceiling, and then offer a lame, (usually) unintelligible defense of his views.

In Part III of the book Bork describes the confirmation process, from his point of view.  In response to the public opinion which was mounted against his nomination, Bork repeatedly says things like "every charge recounted was false" (p. 282), "there is not a word of truth in this litany" (p. 286), that "was as flat a falsehood as could be imagined" (p. 289), and many more similar statements, often referring to the accusations against him as "lies".

The salient point to remember here is that Bork had every chance to explain his views, and refute the alleged "lies", if in fact they were really falsehoods. For example, he explains that "I spent almost seven hours all told with Senator Spector, at the hearings and in his offices, discussing constitutional law..." The fact that Bork was unable to satisfactorily explain his views does  not speak well of his abilities as an advocate, hence as a prospective Supreme Court justice.

The fact is that Bork had every opportunity to defend himself, and had vigorous advocates on the Republican side who were defending him, and yet could still not make his case. At one point it was felt that he was going to withdraw his nomination, but after consultation with his wife and children he decided to stay in. He went to the White House and read a statement saying this, and then left without taking any questions from the media. Why he didn't take the opportunity to make his case to the interested public, he does not say.

How bad Bork's performance was during the confirmation process is measured by his pathetic results. He got 42 votes in the Senate. Four years later, by contrast, a much poorer candidate, arguably more extreme than Bork, certainly much less of a legal scholar, and carrying heavy personal baggage, was confirmed with 52 votes, ten more than Bork got, even though there were three fewer Republicans in the Senate than in 1987. That candidate was Clarence Thomas, who still serves on the court to this day.

This book constitutes Bork's (belated) effort to make his case, but it is every bit as pathetic as his efforts during the nomination process. It is little more than an exercise in self-pity.

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