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Bork Defends His Record, Rejects Allegations of Bias

September 18, 1987|DAVID LAUTER and DAVID G. SAVAGE | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork on Thursday defended his record as an appeals court judge against studies that have alleged bias in his decisions, saying the studies "would not (get) a passing grade" if they had come before him as a law professor.

Appearing for the third day before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bork told Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that "if you look at my decisions . . . you will find no political axis, no political line along which those decisions line up. They go both ways, they line up only according to legal reasoning."

Allegations of biased decision-making have been a key accusation by Bork's critics, who charge that he is not the restrained jurist he claims to be, but, rather, a judicial activist implementing a conservative ideology.

Bork labored to dispel that impression Thursday, insisting again, as he had done earlier, that his judicial decisions and his writings reflect no political stance.

"None of my criticisms of any (past Supreme Court) cases implies agreement with the statute which was being (challenged), none of them. That's only for a result-oriented judge, a judge who wants results. I don't care about that. I care about whether (the decision) comes out of the Constitution," he said.

The day's testimony was largely devoted to Bork's direct defense against specific attacks by his critics. The sessions, which will culminate with the committee's decision on whether to recommend Bork to the Senate for confirmation to the high court, previously were dominated by his explanation of his judicial philosophy and interpretation of the Constitution. He will testify again today, with the proceedings expected to continue with other witnesses for another two weeks.

Thursday's questioning brought two notable displays of emotion by the nominee, who has appeared relaxed and unflappable through the hours of questioning.

The first, in which he appeared near tears, came when senators mentioned his late wife, Claire, who died of cancer in 1980, in a discussion of his reasons for pursuing a lucrative law practice rather than charity legal work before becoming a judge.

"Were those years . . . which coincided with heavy medical bills in your family?" asked Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N.H.). Bork, sagging slightly in his chair, bowed his head and placed his hand over his face as he answered "yes."

Clashes With Kennedy

The other occurred in a sharp exchange with his most strident critic on the committee, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Kennedy accused Bork of unduly favoring presidential power over congressional power in inter-branch legal disputes and said Bork would allow Congress little say in issues of war and peace.

"Senator, I just said precisely the opposite," an obviously irritated Bork shot back. "The question of war and peace is entirely for Congress."

Later, his face reddening, he added: "I must say, I think those are most unfair characterizations of my views."

With Thursday's intense questioning, Bork's supporters lashed back that his critics were attempting to whipsaw him unfairly--particularly by suggesting that he was softening his views to gain confirmation while at the same time contending that he was a rigid ideologue.

"For six to eight weeks (they have said) he's been a zealot in concrete, now (they say) he's dangerously flexible," said Tom Korologos, the veteran Republican consultant who has been lobbying on Bork's behalf.

Responses 'Helpful'

But the debate provided few new indications of how the three crucial panel members who are believed to be undecided on the nomination are leaning. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), who had said Wednesday that he was "very concerned" by Bork's civil rights views, said Thursday he found his additional responses on that issue "helpful."

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) repeated doubts about Bork's record of "very significant pronounced shifts" on major issues over the years, which he said "troubles me."

The third key swing-vote member, Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.), did not speak at the hearing Thursday.

Throughout the day, Bork, who had seemed energetic and animated Wednesday, appeared increasingly tired, as the more than 13 hours of interrogation began to wear on him. Nonetheless, he offered a spirited defense when Grassley asked him about the recent critical studies of his judicial voting record by groups opposing his nomination.

In July, a report by the Public Citizen Litigation Group, affiliated with consumer activist Ralph Nader, charged that Bork's judicial rulings in close cases consistently favored businesses or government agencies and opposed individuals and public interest groups. The authors concluded that Bork was not an open-minded and impartial judge.

Subsequent studies by the American Civil Liberties Union and the AFL-CIO levied similar charges.

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