President Reagan appealed to the Senate yesterday to confirm Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court before the next term begins in October and unveiled what aides described as a "tone-setting" speech for Bork stressing his qualifications but skirting ideological issues.
"No man in America and few in history have been as qualified to sit on the Supreme Court as Robert Bork," Reagan said in a speech to the National Law Enforcement Council at the White House.
The speech was made as Reagan has been under pressure from conservative activists to launch a more forceful campaign for Bork. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) has scheduled hearings on the nomination to begin Sept. 15, making it all but impossible for Bork to join the court at the begining of the term. Bork would fill the seat vacated by retired justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.
A senior White House official said Reagan would "use all his resources" to push the Bork nomination. Other officials said Reagan will stress Bork's qualifications and overall judicial philosophy and emphasize that Bork is similar to other judges he has appointed. This strategy is designed to counter the intensifying opposition to Bork from Democrats and liberal activists who are portraying Bork as a radically ideological conservative who would undo decades of established rulings.
In his speech yesterday, Reagan described Bork as having "a remarkable legal career," saying that as a lawyer Bork "was recognized as among the best in his field," as a Yale professor he became "one of the preeminent legal scholars of our time," and as an appeals court judge "he has been widely acclaimed for his intellectual power and his fairness."
The president also cast the nomination in terms of his push for "the doctrine of judicial restraint," saying that Bork, in five years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, "has demonstrated a clear understanding of the appropriate role of the judiciary in our constitutional system."
Reagan quoted former justice Felix Frankfurter as saying "the highest exercise of judicial duty is to subordinate one's personal pulls and one's private views to the law." The president said, "If I could appoint a whole Supreme Court of Felix Frankfurters, I would. And I've taken a step, I think, with Robert Bork."
"The Supreme Court has shown its own esteem for Robert Bork," Reagan said. "Judge Bork has written more than 100 majority opinions and joined in another 300 majority opinions. The Supreme Court has never reversed a single one of these more than 400 opinions. That's a vote of confidence any judge in America would envy."
"And what's more, nine of the 10 times the Supreme Court reviewed a case that Judge Bork had ruled on, Justice Powell agreed with Bork," Reagan said. "It's hard for a fair-minded person to escape the conclusion that, if you want someone with Justice Powell's detachment and statesmanship, you can't do better than Judge Bork."
Reagan's comments omitted mention of dissenting opinions that Bork wrote or joined and that the Supreme Court rejected. Also, not all the majority opinions that Bork wrote or joined were reviewed by the Supreme Court.
"Each senator must decide which criteria is right for casting this critical vote -- qualifications or politics," Reagan said.
The president also said Bork reflected his desire to get "tougher on criminals," and said his judicial appointees have done so, citing stricter sentences for drug and weapons-related offenses. "I feel the American people want criminals going to jail while constitutional rights are preserved," he said.
Reagan repeated an anecdote about heroin found in a baby's diapers by police, saying the evidence was thrown out because the baby had not given permission to be searched. "I think we've had enough of diaper cases and that sort of thing in this land," he said.
The White House has assembled a task force to produce backup documents and other material in support of Bork's nomination, and officials said Reagan will be raising it more frequently in the weeks ahead.
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, who has been critical of Biden, said yesterday the White House was encouraged by statements from Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va) indicating that he would vote to let the nomination reach the Senate floor, and that he hoped the Senate would not become so polarized that "this will become a litmus test of party loyalty."