America's effort to put our most noble ideals into practice distinguishes our democracy. That progress is not ancient history. Some of it happened within our lifetimes. And without vigilance it could be lost, as it was in previous eras.
Throughout the Judiciary Committee hearings, Judge Robert Bork has attempted to put himself on the right side of this history. He has repudiated views he once held that denied minorities full equality with whites, and he has affirmed that the Constitution outlaws all racial discrimination. I am pleased to hear it. But even if Judge Bork does accept the principle of unabridged equality for racial minorities, there is little, if anything, in his record that persuades me he can be counted on to enforce this principle vigorously.
He has opposed decisions that upheld the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act, which has enabled minorities in America to participate in the electoral process. Without the Voting Rights Act, states would again be free to require literacy tests as a condition for voting. This would disenfranchise millions of existing voters.
He has opposed a decision prohibiting state courts from enforcing racially restrictive covenants requiring home owners not to sell their property to nonwhites. Had Bork's view prevailed on the Supreme Court, we might still be waiting to break down legal racial barriers in neighborhoods.
He also has disagreed with a number of cases implementing the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. His opposition to providing remedies for discrimination is highly significant. It prevents him from upholding laws that actually give minorities full equality. He apparently opposes remedying the effects of past discrimination except where an individual proves that he or she has been the direct victim of racial discrimination.
If this view were to prevail, institutions that have implemented smoothly functioning affirmative action programs would be plunged into chaos. Should they abandon them, regardless of how well they are working or how good they are for profits and morale? And to what purpose? To support some narrow reading of the 14th Amendment remarkable only for its insensitivity to America's history?
In the years ahead, a deeper trust among the races will require great candor. It will require more action and less rhetoric; more mutual understanding, less fingerpointing; more willingness to confront fears of violence, less acceptance of token solutions to deteriorating economic conditions. Above all, white America must assure black America that the legal basis for black advancement remains unchallengeable and the determination to enforce the law remains unquestioned. The Supreme Court is the ultimate guarantor of that assurance. We must have a Supreme Court that understands the need to make opportunity a reality for minorities who historically have been excluded from jobs, from schools, from full participation in society. Anything less is a sham.
Judge Bork is erudite. He has a quick mind and a ready wit. He possesses the qualities of a great college professor -- the ability to provoke, to challenge assumptions, to argue fiercely, to reach a conclusion and then move on to the next class. His iconoclasm, while stimulating in a professor, can be disastrous in a judge. What is important is not how nimble his argument will be, but how his decisions will affect millions of Americans who will have to live by them.
So ultimately what we're asking is not only what's in Judge Bork's mind but also what's in his heart. Is he sensitive to human and racial problems?
I can hear his supporters saying that here comes the irrational argument. But it is prudence, not irrationality, to give as much emphasis to citizen Bork's past views as to nominee Bork's new views. His supporters say, "Can't one change his views?" Yes, certainly. Otherwise, how could we, in the last 32 years, have moved from a time when the air was heavy with racism to one in which the union of religious faith and civic action has begun to create a new American reality. So, yes, people can change.
The question here is not whether people can change in a generic sense but whether Bork has changed since he expressed his hostile attitudes toward civil rights laws and court decisions. On one hand, we have the stated conversion of a man who in his lifetime has had several different viewpoints. On the other side, we have the lengthy list of current and past positions hostile to civil rights from the nominee of an administration that supports subsidizing segregated schools. So what does one do?
A law school professor dissects precedents. A circuit court judge applies precedents. A Supreme Court justice sets precedents. If a professor slips back temporarily into the blank spots of racial insensitivity, it hurts only his immediate friends who believed him to be a different person. If a justice of the Supreme Court slips back, it could hurt generations of Americans; it could affect our place in the world; it could destroy our self-respect; it could reopen wounds long healed; it could paralyze the forward movement of society toward a reconciliation with our past.
So, I will vote against the confirmation of Robert Bork, not because I question his integrity, competence or qualifications, but because I doubt that he has the commitment to civil rights and individual liberties on which the decency and well-being of our American community depends.
This is adapted from a statement by Sen. Bradley (D-N.J.) to the Senate on Sept. 29.