President Trump’s selection in January of 2017 of Judge Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee came nearly one year after unprecedented partisan gridlock in which congressional Republicans refused to hold a hearing for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. To many, this partisanship seemed unmatched, but the battle for control of the Supreme Court arguably began 30 years ago with the nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork.
When Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, his conservative and often controversial views on civil rights, gender equality, the right to privacy and abortion were well known. Judge Bork’s writings became the center of his confirmation hearings. As Judge Bork’s candid answers during his hearing steadily revealed his judicial conservative ideas, Democrats and even some Republicans became more and more convinced that he should never sit on the Supreme Court. In the end, however, Judge Bork’s defeat broke along party lines, solidifying much of the partisanship we see in the process today. And, while the Bork hearings may not have completely destroyed the century of transparency that had been the hallmark of the nomination process, since Bork judicial nominees, Republican and Democratic, reveal almost nothing publicly about their judicial philosophy, leaving the American people with little or no idea where they stand on issues they may be deciding for the rest of their lives.