The Bork Identity: Why You Should Fear Romney’s Supreme Court
As the presidential campaign gains velocity, each party’s strategy in the battle for the White House has become clear. The GOP is focusing on the weak economic recovery and has painted the president as an anti-business, pro-regulation leader who doesn’t understand the private sector. This is almost certainly influenced by the Republicans’ low scores at the polls on foreign policy and overall likeability compared to Obama. The Democrats, on the other hand, are flaunting victories such as the death of Osama Bin Laden and the passage of the Affordable Care Act, while attacking Mitt Romney’s vulture-like business practices at Bain Capital and his inability to understand the troubles of everyday Americans.
Terence Burlij/PBS NewsHour
Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president, speaks at a town hall event in Dayton, Ohio, on March 3, 2012.
Though these political strategies are neither new nor creative, the fact that the Obama administration has taken President Bill Clinton’s advice and painted Romney as a conservative extremist instead of a conviction-free flip flopper is quite interesting. After all, despite a grueling primary that forced Romney more to the right than ever before, he has repeatedly had difficulties convincing the party’s conservative base of his authenticity. In addition, with all the firepower that seems available to the Obama administration to attack Mitt Romney’s stance changes over the years (auto bailout, Romneycare, Etch A Sketch, etc.), it seems almost counterintuitive to take a different approach.
Can this image of Romney the right-wing bogeyman really stick with American voters? Upon closer look, the picture might not be that hard to believe. Romney’s record on judicial nominations suggests as much.
The Supreme Bork
This election is about more than the next four years. It’s about our government’s longest lasting legacy: life-long Supreme Court justices. Both parties know that in addition to the four Supreme Court justices over the age of 70 who will likely need to be replaced, whoever wins in November will also appoint nearly half of all sitting judges in the next four years.
President Obama, thus far, has made efforts to diversify the bench. In addition to successfully appointing the Court’s first Latina, Obama has nominated more women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community than any other president, despite the Republican Party’s attempts at obstruction.
Romney, however, made headlines this year when he appointed Robert Bork, one of the most controversial judicial extremists our country has ever seen, as his top advisor on the Constitution and the judicial branch. Appointed to the Supreme Court by President Reagan over 25 years ago, Bork’s nomination was defeated by a bipartisan coalition of U.S. senators due to his extremist views and legal opinions. During confirmation hearings, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy put it bluntly: “Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution.”
There is still plenty of time left before the election to see if the Obama campaign’s strategy is successful. But if the message of Robert Bork is exposed to the American people, Mitt Romney will have some serious explaining to do.
Bork has advanced a number of severely backward ideas over the years and has been highly criticized by progressive organizations all over the country. An especially controversial figure in feminist circles, Bork once ruled that corporations should have the right to tell women that they had to be sterilized or risk being fired. He has also conveyed his belief that the Constitution’s promise of equal protection does not apply to gender discrimination.
One year before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned whites-only lunch counters and other forms of discrimination, Bork criticized the act, calling it “unsurpassed ugliness.”
He supports the government’s ability to completely outlaw contraception, and has advocated for both poll taxes and literacy tests for Americans exercising their constitutional right to vote.
Bork also once supported Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld a Texas statute outlawing homosexual activity and was eventually overturned. He has even gone so far as to say that the First Amendment shouldn't apply to literature, art, or science.
The Bork-fest club
The Supreme Court makes decisions that affect Americans for generations; indeed, it is already advancing an extreme-right agenda with some of the most harmful rulings our country has ever seen, such as Citizens United and potentially the slaying of the Affordable Care Act.
Robert Bork doesn’t merely have a comparatively different view of America’s judicial system; he holds some of the most detrimental ideas about the rights of the American people ever espoused. Since his failed Supreme Court nomination, he has become a slain martyr for the conservative lapdogs of the Republican Party, still pushing a flawed and ignorant agenda. And the fact that he is the lead judicial advisor for the Romney campaign makes the prospect of a Romney win both more unlikely and more frightening.
A Romney victory requires that Independents, young people, and moderate Republicans associate him more with the centrist governor he used to be instead of the right-wing champion he pretended to be during the primaries. His association with Bork, however, suggests that, whatever his personal convictions, Romney is beholden to the most extreme elements of his party.
Is it true that Mitt Romney is actually a pure-blooded member of this political class like the Obama administration is claiming? Probably not. But his desire to lift his conservative street cred by making chums of the right-wing radicals of his party makes his candidacy dangerous all the same. The fact is, Mitt Romney is a right-wing pretender with the capacity to inflict real right-wing damage on the country.
At the end of the day, the lesson for Republicans may be, this: If you want a presidential campaign to be finished, stick a Bork in it.
Dustin R. Daniels oversees all public policy and research support for the Young Elected Officials Network, a leadership management program of People for the American Way. He has appeared alongside national leaders like Mike Huckabee, Van Jones, Cornell West, and Ralph Nader to discuss various policy issues.