Radio Address to the Nation on the Supreme Court Nomination of Robert H. Bork

 

October 10, 1987

 

My fellow Americans:

 

Yesterday afternoon I had a meeting in the White House I won't easily forget. The man who came to see me was Robert Bork, whom I nominated for a position on the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.

 

Judge Bork was there to tell me -- after several days of soul searching -- about a decision he'd made on whether to continue seeking appointment to the Supreme Court. You see, ever since I announced him as my choice, Judge Bork's record has been subjected to distortions and misrepresentations. Indeed, one distinguished Washington commentator has put it very bluntly. He said that if Judge Bork's nomination was defeated, it would be ``not on the merits of the case, nor on the debate in the Senate.''

 

Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, too, called the tactics used against Judge Bork disinformation -- but the real test is to the principles that were established by the Founding Fathers when they created the Constitution. The Washington Post columnist David Broder recently wrote: ``To subject judges and judicial appointees to propaganda torture tests does terrible damage to the underlying values of this democracy and the safeguards of our freedoms.'' But despite these courageous words from a few individuals, many here in Washington closed their eyes to the wrong being done to the judicial process. And so, as the opposition grew to Judge Bork, some voices were raised to withdraw his name from nomination.

 

This I refused to do. I knew that any decision made by Judge Bork would be made on solid grounds of principle in contrast to those who would politicize our courts; jeopardize the independence of the judiciary; and hold our courts and Constitution hostage. But while I refused to withdraw his name, I understood why Judge Bork himself might choose to do so. The judge was a distinguished scholar at the Yale University Law School, had served as the Nation's top lawyer in the post of Solicitor General, and his tenure on the Court of Appeals here in Washington has been marked by excellence.

 

So, too, I felt that in many ways he had already won an important victory. During his confirmation hearings, Judge Bork had given us all a national lesson in our legal tradition and the importance of judicial restraint -- the belief of our Founding Fathers that it was the role of the judge to interpret the law, not to preempt the rights of the people and their legislatures by making the law. So, I could understand then why Judge Bork might choose to withdraw and simply return to the Court of Appeals. I wish you could have been there as Judge Bork explained his decision -- as he looked me in the eye and said we must do not what was right or easy for himself, but what was right for the country.

 

The best I can do to recreate for you the eloquence and character of this man is to quote from the statement he made shortly after our meeting. Judge Bork said this: ``Were the fate of Robert Bork the only matter at stake, I would ask the President to withdraw my nomination. The most serious and lasting injury in all of this, however, is not to me. Rather, it is to the dignity and integrity of law and public service in this country.''

 

Judge Bork said a critical principle was at stake. He explained it this way, and again I quote: ``Federal judges are not appointed to decide cases according to the latest opinion polls. They are appointed to decide cases impartially, according to law. But when judicial nominees are assessed and treated like political candidates the effect will be to chill the climate in which judicial deliberations take place, to erode public confidence in the impartiality of our judges, and to endanger the independence of the judiciary.'' My fellow Americans, Andrew Jackson said once that ``one man with courage makes a majority.'' Obviously, Bob Bork has that courage, now let's you and I give him our support.

 

I agree with Judge Bork that there are no illusions. Our judges should be faithful to the written Constitution, the bedrock of our liberties. Those selected for the Supreme Court must be aware of all points of view and their decisions based on government by the people.

 

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

 

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.