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Remarks at a White House Briefing on the Nomination of Robert H. Bork To Be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

September 30, 1987

The President. Well, welcome to the Old Executive Office Building. I'm told that this grand old building is considered part of the White House these days, but it wasn't so many years ago that this building housed the entire Departments of War and Navy and the Department of State. They call it progress, but I'm not so sure.

Well, a lot of historic decisions have been taken in this building, but none more important than the reason that we rally today. Americans who are committed to a Supreme Court with the highest standards speak with one voice. Judge Bork is not the conservative or liberal nominee; he is America's nominee to the United States Supreme Court. And just like my other nominees to the Court, he's not going to promote my political views; he's going to apply a superb legal mind to the task of interpreting the Constitution and the laws of the United States. The support for him reveals the fact that he is superbly qualified, an individual of unsurpassed integrity, and a principled advocate of judicial restraint. We will not be satisfied with allowing special interests to determine the qualifications to serve on our country's highest court.

In the realm of legal philosophy and jurisprudence, as you know, labels can be deceiving. There's a little story about the great Supreme Court Justice, Benjamin Cardozo, that makes the point. Many years ago, when he was serving on the Court, he received a letter from a member of the public, and it read: "Dear Judge Cardozo, I read in the newspaper that you are a liberal judge. Will you send me $10, as I'm really very hard up. Sincerely." I don't have the name. [Laughter]

But more relevant than a political label are the qualifications of the nominee, and all of us better understand the significance of that point. Our history commands that the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice by a President and the act of confirmation by the United States Senate be carried out with the highest level of statesmanship. Whether President, Senator, or concerned citizen, when we enter the halls of justice and select the next steward of our Constitution, Americans traditionally leave outside their partisan leanings and the narrow special interests. Each of us owes a sacred debt to our ancestors, who established the rule of law in this Republic, and to the citizens of the future, to whom we entrust our nation's destiny. In a special way, this duty now falls upon the United States Senate as it nears a crossroad, a crossroad of conscience, as it prepares to decide on the confirmation of Robert Bork. Let us insist that the Senate not give in to noisy, strident pressures and that elected officials not be swayed by a deliberate campaign of disinformation and distortion.

Retired Chief Justice Warren Burger took the unprecedented step of addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee because of, in his words, "the hype and disinformation on Bork." And today all of us join Chief Justice Warren Burger in urging the Senate to reject those who want a Justice who makes law and approve Robert Bork, who believes a Justice should interpret the law. [Applause] It's apparent that Chief Justice Burger is not alone.

Other noteworthy people are coming forward. In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Howard Krane, managing partner of one of our nation's most prestigious law firms and long-time associate of Justice Bork—Judge Bork, I should say—stated that Judge Bork has proven to be "a man free from prejudice toward any group, who has exemplified the values of equality throughout his life." Well, Mr. Krane told this compelling story of how, as a young associate in a major law firm, Robert Bork courageously confronted the senior partners in that firm who had decided to deny employment to Mr. Krane simply because he was Jewish. Robert Bork urged those partners to consider Mr. Krane solely on the merits, and today Mr. Krane is the managing partner of that law firm.

Last week President Carter's counsel, Lloyd Cutler, testified in support of Judge Bork's nomination. Although he disagrees with Robert Bork on some political issues, Lloyd Cutler is convinced that Judge Bork's judicial philosophy represents the mainstream of contemporary thought. He believes, as I do, that Robert Bork's training, experience, character, and sheer intellectual capacity give him the potential to be a great Supreme Court Justice, like the legendary Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis.

This is high praise, indeed, from a Democrat. But it's in keeping with a well-respected tradition that we Americans apply to the selection of Supreme Court Justices: a President, whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, seeks out the best qualified person who generally shares the President's judicial philosophy. The Senate then decides whether the nominee meets the qualifications to serve. This way, over the years, the Supreme Court becomes composed of the best minds reflecting varied but accepted judicial philosophies. Now is not the time to change the standard, to break that tradition. And I know you join me in calling for statesmanship, not partisanship, in the confirmation of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.

There's a growing and impressive list of other leaders of our society who support the confirmation of Judge Bork: two sitting Justices of the Supreme Court, Justices Stevens and White; four former Attorneys General; legal scholars from around the country; the American Farm Bureau; the Concerned Women of America, and last week, leaders of law enforcement organizations representing over 400,000 peace officers and prosecutors. This diverse and distinguished group, among many others, has stepped forward, because they recognize an eminent and honorable legal scholar and jurist and resent the unfair and unfounded attacks that are being made.

Beyond his scholarship and judicial qualifications, there's nothing more significant for his confirmation than the war on crime. Last week, Fred Foreman, representing the Nation's district attorneys, observed that there is a large group in this country made up of women, minorities, the weak, and the aged. Although not well-organized, he reckoned they were in Judge Bork's corner, because they are the victims of crime. And I guess he ought to know; he and the thousands of young prosecutors around the country are the ones who have to vindicate the rights of the victims and send the criminals to jail. Now, both as Solicitor General and as judge, Robert Bork has been a principled champion in the fight against crime, and that's the kind of Justice honest citizens deserve to have on the Court.

You know, sometimes we may not always hear of some of the ridiculous decisions that are handed down and why we need judges like Judge Bork. Out in my own State, when I was Governor of California, there were two officers on the drug detail. They had, based on certain evidence, a warrant to legally go and inspect a home for drugs. And they went in, and they couldn't find the drugs. It was supposed to be heroin. The husband and wife stood there. And as they were just going out the door, one of them turned. There was a baby there in the crib. And he removed the baby's diaper, and there was the heroin. The case was thrown out of court, because the baby hadn't given its permission to be searched. We've had enough of that.

Judge Bork has argued for more reasonable interpretations of criminal procedures that assure both justice and the prompt conviction of criminals rather than allowing dangerous criminals to go free on unjustified technicalities. He has not hesitated to overturn convictions where genuine constitutional rights have been violated. He has consistently rendered judgment in a clear-eyed manner with the aim of protecting the rights of the innocent. And that's what justice should be all about—protecting our rights as Americans. And that's why 400,000 law enforcement officers have thrown their support behind Judge Bork, the battle against crime, and for the rule of law. Criminals terrorize the streets in too many of America's cities.

It's time to decide whether our children and our children's children deserve an America in which the concern is for their safety and not just the protection of the criminal. I saw a surprising statistic the other day. Nearly one-third of the Supreme Court's cases involve matters of criminal justice. The next Justice on that Court better be ready to deal with that challenge; the next Justice better be Robert Bork.

Now, we all have a lot of work to do getting out the message for Judge Bork. And I'd like to thank those of you who have already devoted so much time and energy to our cause. If he's going to overcome the storm of distortions that have swirled up against him, each of us, and Americans across the country, are going to have to double the effort on behalf of the truth. Three choices are what this battle is all about: the choice between liberal judges who make up the law or sound judges who interpret the law; the choice between liberal judges whose decisions protect criminals or firm judges whose decisions protect the victims; the choice between liberal judges selected by the liberal special interests or distinguished judges selected to serve the people.

But before closing, it's worthy considering why Judge Bork's scholarly criticism of some court rulings has aroused such an attack. Over 50 years ago, the English legal scholar Sir Frederick Pollock wrote regarding our Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Some people seem to think that Mr. Justice Holmes is always dissenting. Does he really dissent much oftener than his learned brethren, or is the impression due to the weight rather than the number of the dissents?" I can't help suspecting that it is the strength of Judge Bork's judicial analysis that has driven some to try to defeat the man after failing to defeat his ideas. It would be a sorry day for this country if fear of an idea well expressed were to deny the country the wisdom of that idea.

I do not believe the United States Senate will succumb to allowing the special interests to choose Supreme Court members. The men and women raised up by the people to that great chamber will listen and will recognize that Judge Robert Bork will enrich and invigorate that court and the Constitution it guards. Again, I thank all of you, and God bless all of you.
Gentleman has a question?

Q. I'm a black pastor. My name is George Lucas, and I'm the pastor of the Race Street Baptist Church and a veteran of two wars, the Korean war and the Vietnam war. I support you, and I've been a supporter of the President. However, we have a statement by Dr. J. Vernon McGee that says this country is either facing revival or revolution. And I think that the Judge Bork nomination is indicative of the times that we have, that we as Americans need to get back to revival, to the word of God, and to the traditional things that we have in our society.

We have an overabundance of people that support pornography, sex, liquor, drugs, the whole bit. And until we bring revival back into the Nation, we need our Congressmen, our Senators, the State government—I ordered you a Bible, Mr. President, from California, and, God, I don't know what happened. It didn't come in time. [Laughter] I'll send it with your name on it. It's the Dr. J. Vernon McGee "Through the Bible Bible." And this is what we need: We need revival in this country so that the people know what this country's about, what we are for, so that when a nomination like Judge Bork comes up we can get behind it and do this.

What happens: We allow certain black leaders who are not really black leaders. Jesse Jackson's not a leader; he's not my leader. I don't cotton to the fact of black leaders going to Communist countries, putting their arms around Fidel Castro and the rest of these rascals, talking about they love America.

I came up in the ghetto of New York City. My mother was on welfare. And I live down in Petersburg. Thank God for all that He has done for me and this country. I would give my life to this country anytime, and I thank God for the privilege to even be here today. I promised the Lord Jesus Christ that if he allowed me an opportunity to speak today I would say what's on my heart. And America needs to get back to the word of God and the study of the word of God so that we can do what's right and have this country go on upwards and onward to the destiny that it's destined to do.

We need to support you, and I call on Americans, black Americans, today, of all persuasions, some that are poor. And you were right, Mr. President; they do support you. But we don't have a forum, and the only time that I had a chance to speak was today. And I want to just use it and say, God bless you, and keep on keeping on, and we're calling on Americans all over to support you.

The President. May I just respond to the reverend and tell you that when I came into this office, I came in with a declaration that I believed this nation was hungering for a spiritual revival. And I believe all over the country that is happening, and I've tried every way I can to help bring it about. You're so absolutely right. And Abraham Lincoln—who they tell me is still in the White House over there— [laughter] —that Abraham Lincoln said that he could not conduct the duties of this office for 15 minutes if he did not believe that he could call upon one who is stronger and wiser than all others and that he had been driven to his knees many times because there was no place else to go. Well, I subscribe to that. And the only thing that worries me is that sometimes I wonder if maybe I'm going to call and He's going to give me a busy signal, because I do it so often. [Laughter]

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:34 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Briefing on the Nomination of Robert H. Bork To Be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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