For folks below a certain age, Robert Bork’s name is probably only vaguely familiar. Ronald Reagan nominated the right-wing jurist to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987, launching one of the fiercest and most important nomination fights in generations. Bork, by the way, lost that fight — the Senate concluded his ideology was simply too extreme for the high court.
That was the correct call. Bork had, after all, endorsed Jim Crow-era poll taxes, condemned portions of the Civil Rights Act banning discrimination in public accommodations, and argued against extending the equal protection of the 14th Amendment to women, among other things.
A quarter-century later, it’s not news that Bork is still an extremist. His bizarre ideology is relevant, however, given his role in Republican presidential politics.
How about the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment? Does [Bork] still think it shouldn’t apply to women?
“Yeah,” he answers. “I think I feel justified by the fact ever since then, the Equal Protection Clause kept expanding in ways that cannot be justified historically, grammatically, or any other way. Women are a majority of the population now — a majority in university classrooms and a majority in all kinds of contexts. It seems to me silly to say, ‘Gee, they’re discriminated against and we need to do something about it.’ They aren’t discriminated against anymore.”
If Bork seriously believes discrimination against women is a thing of the past, he really needs to get out more — or at least have a conversation with Lilly Ledbetter.
But the salience here comes with appreciating what Bork is currently up to. Ian Millhiser noted, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney chose Bork to serve as the co-chair of his “Judicial Advisory Committee.”
Whatever Bork might have been, however, he is now nothing more than an angry old man who long ago resigned his federal judgeship and faded into obscurity. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a leading presidential contender and could potentially be in a position to select new Supreme Court justices. Before anyone casts a vote for or against Romney, the former governor should explain clearly and without reservation why he selected a top legal advisor who believes that gender discrimination no longer exists and that the Constitution has nothing whatsoever to say about it — and Romney must be equally clear about whether he plans to appoint judges and justices who share Bork’s dismissive attitude towards discrimination.
That seems more than fair. If Romney announces this afternoon that he’s parting ways with Bork, and no longer wants anything to do with his extremist ideology, I’ll be duly impressed. If Romney blows it off, I’ll wait for campaign reporters to press the former governor for a coherent explanation.