Address to the Nation on the Supreme Court Nomination of Robert H. Bork
My fellow Americans:
In the last 6 1/2 years I have spoken with you and asked for your help many times. When special interests and power brokers here in Washington balked at cutting your taxes, I asked for your help. You went to your Congressmen and Senators, and the tax cuts passed. And by the way, as a result, at the end of this month we will mark the longest peacetime economic expansion on record.
In the first few hours after our servicemen went to the rescue of young Americans and of democracy in Grenada, opponents here in Washington criticized the mission. But again I asked for your help, and you let your Congressmen and Senators know that you were proud of our men and women in uniform. And soon Congress was giving full support to our policies. Yes, all that America has achieved in the last 6 1/2 years—our record economic expansion, the new pride we have at home, the new strength that may soon bring us history's first agreement to eliminate an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles—all of this has happened because, when the chips were down, you and I worked together.
As you know, I have selected one of the finest judges in America's history, Robert Bork, for the Supreme Court. You've heard that this nomination is a lost cause. You've also heard that I am determined to fight right down to the final ballot on the Senate floor. I'm doing this because what's now at stake in this battle must never in our land of freedom become a lost cause. And whether lost or not, we Americans must never give up this particular battle: the independence of our judiciary.
Back in July when I nominated Judge Bork, I thought the confirmation process would go forward with a calm and sensible exchange of views. Unfortunately, the confirmation process became an ugly spectacle, marred by distortions and innuendos, and casting aside the normal rules of decency and honesty. As Judge Bork said last Friday, and I quote: "The process of confirming Justices for our nation's highest court has been transformed in a way that should not and, indeed, must not be permitted to occur again. The tactics and techniques of national political campaigns have been unleashed on the process of confirming judges. That is not simply disturbing; it is dangerous. 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 courts, and to endanger the independence of the judiciary."
Judge Bork said he had no illusions about the difficulty of the task before us, but he also said, and I agree, that a crucial principle is at stake. And we will fight for every vote to maintain that principle. It is the process that is used to determine the fitness of those men and women selected to serve on our courts, those people who guard the basic liberties that we all cherish and have been the beacon of freedom for over two centuries.
If the campaign of distortion and disinformation used by opponents of this nominee is allowed to succeed, it will represent more than a temporary setback for one candidate or the administration. It will permanently diminish the sum total of American democracy; it will call into question the idea of free, fair, and civil exchange; and it will mean that on critical issues like the fight against crime and drugs and keeping those who are unelected from unconstitutionally taking power into their own hands—each of us and each of our children will be the losers.
During the hearings, one of Judge Bork's critics said that among the functions of the Court was reinterpreting the Constitution so that it would not remain, in his words, "frozen into ancient error because it is so hard to amend." Well, that to my mind is the issue, plain and simple. Too many theorists believe that the courts should save the country from the Constitution. Well, I believe it's time to save the Constitution from them. The principal errors in recent years have had nothing to do with the intent of the framers who finished their work 200 years ago last month. They've had to do with those who have looked upon the courts as their own special province to impose by judicial fiat what they could not accomplish at the polls. They've had to do with judges who too often have made law enforcement a game where clever lawyers try to find ways to trip up the police on the rules.
At the local, State, and Federal levels, your voices have been heard. After years of rising crime and leniency in the courtrooms, you demanded fair but tough law enforcement, enforcement that protected the innocent and punished the guilty. And with your support, we've been able to turn things around in Washington. We organized a war against organized crime and a stepped-up effort against drug trafficking. It took us 3 years, but we finally got our crime bill through the Congress. But most of all, I kept a promise that I made to you when I ran for this office: that from my first day here in the White House that I would seek to nominate judges who would respect the Constitution and would protect the rights of those who become victims of crime.
Well, all of this meant hard work, but together we have turned the crime trend around. The Department of Justice just over a week ago released a study showing that crime had declined for the fifth straight year and has now reached its lowest level in 14 years. That's something to be proud of.
So, my agenda is your agenda, and it's quite simple: to appoint judges like Judge Bork who don't confuse the criminals with the victims; judges who don't invent new or fanciful constitutional rights for those criminals; judges who believe the courts should interpret the law, not make it; judges, in short, who understand the principle of judicial restraint. That starts with the Supreme Court. It takes leadership from the Supreme Court to help shape the attitudes of the courts in our land and to make sure that principles of law are based on the Constitution. That is the standard to judge those who seek to serve on the courts: qualifications, not distortions; judicial temperament, not campaign disinformation.
In the next several days, your Senators will cast a vote on the Bork nomination. It is more than just one vote on one man: It's a decision on the future of our judicial system. The purpose of the Senate debate is to allow all sides to be heard. Honorable men and women should not be afraid to change their minds based on that debate.
I hope that in the days and weeks ahead you will let them know that the confirmation process must never again be compromised with high-pressure politics. Tell them that America stands for better than that and that you expect them to stand for America. Remind them that there is a thing we call the Constitution and to serve under it is a sacred trust, that they have sworn themselves to that trust, and that not just for this nomination or any nomination but for the sake of the independence of the American system of justice for generations to come. Now is the time to uphold that trust, no matter how powerful are those in opposition.
There is a vision for America that we all share, an America where the Constitution is held in high esteem, where all our citizens are treated equally under the law, where the Legislature makes the law and the judges interpret the law, and where the right of the people to self-government is respected.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
Note: The President spoke at 3:15 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House.
Ronald Reagan, Address to the Nation on the Supreme Court Nomination of Robert H. Bork Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251858