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Don't let us get Borked

Let's all take a moment and remember Robert Bork. To help jog your memory, here's his curriculum vitae in a nutshell: Saturday Night Massacre hatchet man, conservative Washington federal appeals judge, failed Reagan nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, right-wing commentator, law professor and a verb.

You might think I'm dredging up ancient history by remembering the man whose judicial philosophy is so radically out of step that in 1987 a bipartisan 58-42 vote of the Senate kept him off the high court. But I didn't dust off the codger. Mitt Romney did. Bork is Romney's pick to co-chair his presidential campaign advisory committee on the law, the Constitution and the judiciary.

Bork is one scary choice as adviser on judges, as the report "Borking America" by People for the American Way makes clear. If Romney wants to broadcast to women that he plans to make our lives difficult, he could not have chosen better. Bork represents a school of thought that tells women the Bill of Rights is not really for them.

For starters, Bork would battle against decades of Supreme Court precedent, which holds that the equal protection clause closely guards against gender discrimination. He was outraged by the Supreme Court's 1996 ruling telling the Virginia Military Institute it had to stop discriminating and admit women to its all-male program. Bork wrote in a diatribe against feminism: "VMI is only one example of a feminized court transforming the Constitution."

Remember how Republican primary candidates went after birth control? Well, Bork is the perfect complement to that view. He doesn't cotton to the idea that the Constitution protects reproductive freedom or the right to privacy. Had Bork been a Supreme Court justice when Connecticut outlawed the use of birth control, even for married couples, he would have left the law in place, not strike it down as the court did in Griswold vs. Connecticut.

It was just one of many stances that horrified the public and most senators — including six Republicans — during a confirmation process so tumultuous that it led to the coining of the verb "Borked." A nominee who gets Borked is publicly vilified by using his own stated views against him.

But Romney is not horrified by Bork. He's delighted to find such a simpatico legal thinker. Romney also rejects a right to privacy in the Constitution, because it formed the basis of Roe vs. Wade. By choosing Bork as a key adviser Romney is telegraphing that he intends to appoint only those judges who agree. Currently, the Supreme Court is ideologically split pretty evenly, if somewhat conservative. If one Bork-like appointee replaces a liberal justice, women's rights are toast.

African-Americans, workers, consumers and environmentalists don't fare much better in Bork's America. For instance, he supports the constitutionality of literacy tests and poll taxes in state elections — those notorious instruments the South used to keep blacks from voting. Imagine how easily Bork's acolytes would green-light the passel of laws passed in Republican-controlled states to tamp down minority voting. Florida's law imposing high bureaucratic hurdles and punishing fines on groups collecting voter registrations wouldn't cause a flicker of concern.

Want to have a chance in Bork's court? You had better be rich and powerful, according to an analysis of his record as judge on the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by the Public Citizen Litigation Group. In split decisions, Bork always sided with businesses in legal battles with the government. And he nearly always sided with the government — most notably the Reagan administration — when challengers were workers, consumers and environmentalists. Public Citizen found that Bork's rulings offered no "consistent application of judicial restraint." Rather, it was the identity of the parties litigating that predicted Bork's vote.

Romney is so desperate to show he's conservative enough for today's Republican Party that he's chosen to elevate a dangerous legal thinker who wants to reverse social progress and deny justice to average people. During Romney's previous run for president he said, "I wish (Bork) were already on the Supreme Court" because he is "the kind of brilliant conservative mind that this court could use."

Ladies, we have been warned.

Don't let us get Borked 04/28/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 28, 2012 5:30am]
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