Senate Republicans appear poised to filibuster the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the 9th Circuit Court of appeals, and they’ve settled on their reason why: Liu was awful mean to Justice Samuel Alito. As the Legal Times reports, Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Johnny Isakson all cited Liu’s testimony against Alito’s nomination as a reason for blocking him:

In separate comments, the three senators all cited the same reason for opposing Liu: the law professor’s 2006 testimony against the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito Jr.

“When Mr. Liu came to the Judiciary Committee and said that, basically, Judge Alito’s philosophy judicially takes us back to the Jim Crow Era, that to me showed an ideological superiority or disdain for conservative ideology that made him in my view an ideologue,” Graham told reporters off the Senate floor.

This is a strange rationale. Rather than argue that Liu is unqualified — which would be difficult to do, given his ratings from the American Bar Association and his endorsements from conservative legal figures — Republican Senators have decided that payback is an adequate reason for filibustering one of the president’s nominees to the bench. It goes without saying that back when these Senators were calling for an “up or down vote” for President George W. Bush’s nominees, they would not have accepted this kind of explanation from Democrats.

At any rate, this is the passage from Liu’s testimony against Alito’s nomination at the time that Republicans now find objectionable:

Judge Alito’s record envisions an America where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with a stolen purse; where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance; where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep on the promise that they won’t turn it on unless an informant is in the room; where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man, absent a multiple regression analysis showing discrimination; and where police may search what a warrant permits, and then some.

The real reason Liu’s remarks are a sore spot for Republicans begins with the controversy over the nomination of Robert Bork by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. At the time, Senator Ted Kennedy issued a blistering statement: “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is — and is often the only — protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”

Bork’s nomination was defeated, and his name was immortalized as a political verb — to defeat a Supreme Court nominee was to “bork”him. The similarities between Liu’s remarks about Alito and Kennedy’s about Bork are inescapable — both constitute a scathing liberal indictment of the conservative vision of America, one conservatives think is grossly unfair — and likely part of the reason Republicans have reacted to them so harshly.

So in a sense, filibustering Liu’s nomination isn’t just revenge for Alito. It’s also payback for Robert Bork. While the political reasons for blocking Liu are obvious — if he attains the bench, he could be an attractive pick for Supreme Court later — what’s more remarkable is the pettiness of the underlying rationale, which is all about revenge.