SUPREME COURT confirmation hearings are supposed to assess the qualifications of a judicial nominee. "Supposed" is the operative word. It never actually works out that way, or at least, not since Ronald Reagan picked an eminently qualified, highly controversial man to fill a court vacancy. That man was Robert Bork, and those of us old enough to remember what happened to him – I was in law school – know now that the fallacy of "advise and consent" has devolved into a political game of chicken.
Bork was treated to a group of angry liberals and their sympathetic moderate friends like Pennsylvsnia's own Arlen Specter who decided that it was their job to frustrate the will of a president they hated (but, oh, we didn't know about true hatred until we got to Clinton . . . and then Obama . . . and then Bannon.) He was personally vilified, his private video rentals culled for signs of immorality, his character assassinated, all in the name of "transparency." The only thing transparent about the Bork hearings was the vile attempt by political enemies to frustrate Ronald Reagan's stamp on the court.
People like Specter, a political chameleon who gauged public opinion before moving an inch in either direction, sensed that Bork would hew closely to the words of the Constitution, a high-profile and well-respected originalist. They understood that this would imperil their special interests, most particularly the thing that Specter laughably called a "super precedent," Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion.
So, they delivered him to the slaughter, in prime time, and gave the English language a new verb: "to Bork" which is defined in Webster's as "to attack or defeat (a nominee or candidate for public office) unfairly through an organized campaign of harsh public criticism or vilification."
The next time the Senate decided to imitate Richard the Lionheart and crusade against a philosophical and political infidelity was with Clarence Thomas. If what was done to Robert Bork was bad, what was done to Clarence Thomas was unforgivable. Or let's describe it this way: the Bork hearings were a few seconds in the microwave: Thomas' go round was Chernobyl. Liberals took their lead from minority groups outraged that this conservative black man would replace the civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall, and mounted their Senate chamber equivalent of a grassy knoll to assassinate his character. They almost managed to keep him from the court by presenting the testimony of Anita Hill that we are now supposed to accept as gospel truth if we want to pass for educated men and women.
But, ironically, it was the same crusading Sen. Specter who this time hit one out of the park for the other side and poked serious holes in Hill's story. In the process he earned the everlasting enmity of feminists, those who cling tightly to his "super precedent," Roe. As I was saying, irony.
After the spectacles involving these two conservative nominees, it was relatively peaceful for a while. President Bill Clinton got his two picks (one of whom, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, refused to answer any real questions,) then there was that unfortunate "WTF?" Moment when President George W. Bush tried to get Harriet Miers on the court, but all was righted (no pun intended) with John Roberts and Sam Alito having relatively little trouble. Yes, the liberals weren't happy with either but there was no major drama and little character assassination. And yes again, conservatives made life miserable for the "wise Latina" Sonia Sotomayor and some of their lackeys made veiled accusations about Elena Kagan's sexual orientation, but nothing in any of these hearings approached the level of Bork and Thomas.
Now, all bets are off. This has nothing to do with the qualifications of Trump's nominee Neil Gorsuch. By all accounts, the man is brilliant and blessed with a judicial temperament.
But as noted before, that is not the point. Liberals who both despise Trump and are fearful of a conservative majority are opposing this nomination for political reasons. They will make him a sacrificial lamb for the despicable way the GOP treated Merrick Garland. They will try, as the NAACP did, to make this about his jurisprudence on the court of appeals. They will pretend that this is about his legal mind, and his views on religious (or what they really mean, "Christian") liberty.
They will, in essence, try and pretend that this isn't about payback.
But judging from Sen. Dianne Feinstein's upturned nose and Sen. Dick Durbin's demands that Gorsuch "stand up to" the man who nominated him (did they ever ask that of Sotomayor?) and the claims from the left that this hearing should never have been held in the first place, we are not judging a judge. This, here, is all about a president and not about this eminently qualified nominee.
And they won't even need to make up a new word. "Trumped" already exists.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer.