SAN FRANCISCO, AUG. 12 -- -- The most talked-about lawyer at the largest gathering of lawyers in history has been one who didn't even make it to the American Bar Association annual meeting here.
U.S. Appeals Court Judge Robert H. Bork, President Reagan's nominee to the Supreme Court, was the talk of the convention, which drew a record 13,500 lawyers and ended today. Bork drew comments from, among others, the Moral Majority leader, the Rev. Jerry Falwell (for); former California governor Jerry Brown (against), and ABA President Robert MacCrate (not saying).
Although the meeting was planned well in advance of the retirement of Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., one of the few speakers here not to offer a view on Bork, the vacancy made the convention a good deal more lively than usual.
A panel discussion on the "Constitutional Convention Revisited" was retooled to include a debate between Assistant Attorney General Stephen J. Markman and Duke law Prof. Walter Dellinger on the proper role of the Senate in the confirmation process.
Markman's boss, Attorney General Edwin Meese III, stopping off at the ABA meeting en route to Hawaii and China, also put in a plug for Bork, asserting that not one of his opinions had been overruled by the Supreme Court.
In the Young Lawyers Section, Bork opponents sought to put the group on record as opposing him -- a move that was tabled after criticism that it would interfere with the ABA's role in evaluating the nominee.
A litigation section luncheon drew a capacity crowd for a speech on Bork by presidential candidate and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.).
Retired chief justice Warren E. Burger digressed from talking about the bicentennial to express his support for Bork and his view that the Senate was "overdue already" in confirming him.
And Bork opponents seized on the unparalleled opportunity to make the case against him with some of the country's most influential lawyers.
"I think I've talked to every lawyer here," said Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, which with the Federation of Women Lawyers held a seminar featuring, among other speakers critical of Bork, San Fransisco lawyer James Brosnahan, one of the key witnesses at confirmation hearings last year for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
As members of the ABA's policy-making House of Delegates filed into the grand ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel on Tuesday to vote on matters ranging from patents to punitive damages, demonstrators from the Northern California Coalition Against Bork chanted "We Want Justice, Not Bork."
Meanwhile, in a quieter vein, the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which evaluates judicial nominees, spent two days discussing the Bork nomination.
In 1981, when Reagan nominated Bork to the U.S. appeals court in the District, the 14-member committee unanimously found him "exceptionally well-qualified," the highest rating.
The ABA's ratings for Supreme Court nominees are different, however, and some have predicted that there could be a minority view finding Bork not qualified to serve on the nation's highest court. The committee is to vote on the nomination this month.
Asked at a news conference today whether the "exceptionally well-qualified" rating suggested certain approval for Bork, ABA President MacCrate, a former member of the judicial evaluations committee, noted that the committee "engages in an investigation of an entirely different dimension and extent" for Supreme Court nominees than for lower court judges.
In federal court vacancies, the ABA does not scrutinize the nominee's political views or judicial philosophy "except to the extent that extreme views" might call into question a nominee's temperament or objectivity, MacCrate said.
"The ultimate judgment of evaluating philosophy, except to the extent that it bears upon the objectivity of the individual, is one that I think lies beyond our committee," he said.