Wendy Long claimed Bork was “smeared” in 1987; conservatives then and now disagree

On the July 5 edition of ABC's World News Tonight, Wendy E. Long, counsel of the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network (JCN), claimed that one-time Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork was rejected because he was “smeared” during his 1987 confirmation hearings. ABC presented no challenge to Long's claim and instead featured Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), apparently confirming her statement. In fact, numerous Republican and conservative politicians have contradicted Long's claim that Bork was “smeared,” asserting that he was ill-suited for the Supreme Court or that he sabotaged his own confirmation.

On the July 3 edition of CNN's Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) reaffirmed his decision to vote against Bork in 1987:

SPECTER: I've learned to study hard, to be prepared and to make up my mind about what questions ought to be asked. I've been criticized a lot for questioning Judge Bork on one session for an hour and a half, and he had views which were different from anybody who had ever been nominated before. He had original intent, and if his original intent stood, we'd still be segregating the United States Senate with African-Americans on one side and Caucasians on the other side. And I read what Senator Bork [sic] has written about me, and he came into Pennsylvania last spring to campaign for my primary opponent, but I think a fair analysis, and a number of scholars have read my questioning of Senator Bork and thought it was right.

On the July 5 broadcast of NBC's Today, Ken Duberstein, former White House chief of staff under President Reagan, blamed the failed nomination on Bork's controversial judicial record and his conduct at the confirmation hearings:

KATIE COURIC (host): But what was it -- what happened during the Bork nomination process? Was it that he had too significant or too clear a paper trail to be, you know, accepted by his opponents?

DUBERSTEIN: Well, I think certainly, that had an awful lot to do with it. But also, he became his own worst witness during his confirmation hearing. And the caricature the opposition had painted of him, everybody saw in living color on TV during his hearings.

After the Senate rejected Bork's nomination on October 23, 1987, White House officials and numerous senators -- Republicans and conservative Democrats -- denounced Bork's judicial record and his performance at the confirmation hearings. An October 24, 1987, New York Times article quoted Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who voted against Bork. “I searched the record. I looked at this distinguished jurist, and I cannot find in him the record of compassion, of sensitivity and understanding of the pleas of the people to enable him to sit on the highest Court of the land,” Warner said.

According to an October 24, 1987, Washington Post article, White House officials pinned Bork's rejection on his controversial writings and the fact that the Senate largely found him unpalatable:

White House officials emphatically disagree with this assessment, insisting that from Reagan on down the administration made a maximum effort. They acknowledge a serious miscalculation at the outset, when they overestimated the likely importance of Bork's role in the firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and underestimated the importance of Bork's controversial writings as a law professor.

Most important, Bork, who met personally with almost half the members of the Senate, did not persuade the key undecided votes, White House officials said. “The dogs just didn't like the food,” said one Bork strategist.

Conservative Democratic senators also voted against Bork, citing his civil rights record. The Los Angeles Times reported on October 24, 1987: “Repeatedly, when Southern senators announced opposition to Bork, they used words similar to those of Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA.), who said Thursday that 'America simply cannot afford to refight the civil rights battles of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.' ” The September 28, 1987, New York Times reported that Nunn supported Reagan's nomination of William Rehnquist to chief justice of the Supreme Court and “has a generally conservative voting record.”

From the July 5 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight:

JAKE TAPPER (correspondent): Conservatives say they've learned their lesson from the successful campaign against Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

LONG: We're more ready than we've ever been before. We certainly were not ready when Justice Bork was smeared and tarred and feathered in 1987.

ORNSTEIN: This is the final affirmation of the permanent campaign. We have had a number of years now, where there's been no distinction between campaigning for office and governing itself. It's all politics all the time.

TAPPER: The politics of confrontation, at least for now. Jake Tapper, ABC News, Washington.