JUDGE ROBERT BORK surprised and, we imagine, discomfited a good many people by announcing yesterday that he won't withdraw as Supreme Court nominee because to do so now would be to acquiesce in a cheapening of the confirmation process. In the campaign against him, he said, this process had been dangerously politicized while his record was seriously distorted. "If I withdraw now, that campaign would be seen as a success and it would be mounted against future nominees." "When judicial nominees are assessed and treated like political candidates, the effect will be to chill the climate in which judicial deliberations take place . . . and to endanger the independence of the judiciary."
We think Judge Bork is right in asking for the full-dress debate and formal decision. He says he harbors no illusions, and it would take some miraculous back-flips to confirm him; a majority of the Senate has now declared itself in opposition. But the nomination of a Supreme Court justice is an august act that deserves a more august end than a committee vote and a rush of head counts. Nor is it wrong to subject senators to the discipline that a formal vote entails, a discipline that some of them would still be pleased to avoid.
The judge is also right, we believe, that the campaign against him went to excess in some respects, was a campaign that the opponents will themselves have cause to regret in the future, one that, on some balance sheets, will cost them more than they gained. We have written this world without end, from the day he was nominated, when the first unseemliness was heard.
But we differ from Judge Bork in that we do not think these seamy aspects of the campaign overwhelmed or determined the entire process. Nor was the process quite so one-sided as he portrays. The nomination was itself a political act. The nominee had on his side the entire apparatus of the White House, the Justice Department and the Republican Party in the Senate. He himself testified for an entire week.
For all the excesses, it is hard to remember or to imagine a more exhaustive airing of the issues raised by this nomination, not merely as to particular decisions or series of decisions by the Supreme Court, but as to the role of the courts in our system. The fitting end is for the Senate now to complete its job -- openly, officially, finishing its sentences, rounding out the record and accepting responsibility for the resul