CHICAGO, DEC. 4 -- Judge Robert H. Bork, breaking his public silence since his nomination to the Supreme Court was rejected by the Senate, accused his opponents of resorting to lies and media manipulation.
Speaking to the American Jewish Committee Thursday night, Bork said members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who opposed his nomination "did not care if the legal methodology was legitimate -- only if the results were politically expedient."
Bork compared himself to "a man who had been tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail."
"If it weren't for the honor, I'd have rather walked," Bork said.
"The vast majority of senators have not thought much about constitutional theory," Bork said.
Bork said it was a mistake for him to have appeared before the committee and to have answered questions about his positions on specific issues. Most previous Supreme Court nominees, he said, had not appeared before the committee, and many who did appear confined their statements to generalities on legal theory.
"What I did is now being taken as a precedent for future nominees, and I feel that it should not be taken as a precedent," Bork said.
"I talked to the committee because groups like People for the American Way and the American Civil Liberties Union were disseminating erroneous information about my views -- saying that I was in favor of things like poll taxes, literacy tests and the sterilization of women," Bork told the audience.
However, a spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said that every Supreme Court nominee since Felix Frankfurter in 1939 has testified before the panel.
It "would be a drastic break with contemporary precedent" for a nominee to decline to testify, said Peter Smith. "It would be such an unusual situation, it would be hard to speculate on what would happen" if a nominee refused, the spokesman said. "I assume there would be a firestorm of criticism."
Although Bork accused Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) of calling him "a racist, a sexist and probably a fascist," his speech did not contain the bitterness of remarks he reportedly made to a legal group Wednesday night.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Bork said in his earlier speech that his opponents in Congress lied to foil his nomination and used the news media to achieve their aim.
"If viewers, listeners and readers believed 10 percent of what was falsely said, they would have been right to be horrified," the newspaper quoted Bork as telling a closed meeting of the Law Club of the City of Chicago. The Tribune said in today's editions that it had obtained a copy of the speech.
"If I believed 10 percent of it, I would have had at least to consider ritual hari-kari," Bork said, according to the newspaper.