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Fears of Blacks, ABA Dissenters on Bork Told : Concerns on His 'Compassion,' 'Extreme Views,' 'Open-Mindedness' Expressed at Senate Hearing

September 22, 1987|DAVID LAUTER and RONALD J. OSTROW | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — In testimony that could damage Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork's chances to gain Senate confirmation, the Senate Judiciary Committee received a report from a four-member minority of the American Bar Assn.'s judicial screening panel that called Bork unqualified because of concerns about his "compassion, open-mindedness (and) sensitivity" to women and minority rights.

The panel minority cited also Bork's "comparatively extreme views" on constitutional principles, particularly on how he would apply the provision guaranteeing equal protection of the laws, Harold R. Tyler Jr., the ABA committee chairman, testified. He also presented written testimony from both the majority and minority factions.

Although 10 members of the ABA panel gave Bork its highest rating of "well qualified"--with one member voting "not opposed"--the committee's minority was unusually large and forceful in its opposition.

The ABA's testimony was given at the end of a marathon hearing during which three former Republican attorneys general praised Bork's nomination and one former Democratic attorney general opposed him. In addition, the sixth day of hearings on the nomination featured statements by three prominent black leaders who contended that placing Bork on the high court could impede the nation's civil rights progress.

"My service as a public servant, career as a legal practitioner and my participation in corporate and public policy decision-making simply would not have been possible if the Supreme Court had not changed so many of the discriminatory practices and attitudes that existed three decades ago," said one of the blacks, William T. Coleman Jr., who was transportation secretary in the Gerald R. Ford Administration.

"Judge Bork, in his writings and speeches, has concluded that several leading constitutional decisions protecting the rights of blacks were wrongly decided and had no basis in the Constitution," Coleman said.

Also criticizing Bork were former Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-Tex.) and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.

The split on Bork among the ABA's committee on the federal judiciary had been disclosed earlier, but the reasons for the minority's opposition had not been spelled out. They are certain to be central in arguments by opponents, just as Bork's supporters will point to praise by judges, lawyers and law school deans and faculty members.

The ABA committee based its evaluation on professional competence, judicial temperament and integrity--excluding political or ideological philosophy "except to the extent that such matters might bear on judicial temperament or integrity," Tyler said in a letter to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the judiciary committee chairman.

The majority said that Bork's "varied experience in virtually all facets of the legal profession, his service as a ranking public official and his high intellect place him among the best available for appointment to the court," Tyler said.

In addition to concerns about Bork's compassion, open-mindedness and sensitivity to minority and women's rights, one member of the opposition expressed reservations in the report over what he regarded as Bork's "inconsistent and possibly misleading recollections of the chronology" of the so-called "Saturday Night Massacre," when Bork, as Justice Department solicitor general, carried out former President Richard M. Nixon's order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald G. Cox.

The ABA panel member, who was not identified, said he regarded Bork's testimony last week about the 1973 episode as inconsistent with previous Bork statements, but the variances were not detailed in Tyler's summary.

Members of the Judiciary Committee will vote next month on whether to recommend Bork to the full Senate for confirmation. We "will make up our minds predominantly, if not exclusively" on Bork's own testimony, committee member Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said, but other senators have expressed great interest in the public witnesses who will appear this week and next.

Monday's testimony from civil rights leaders was expected to be particularly important. Opponents of Bork's nomination have said since the outset of the debate that they believe Bork's positions on civil rights issues are the key to the case against him. Civil rights issues are particularly sensitive for the Southern Democrats, who form the largest undecided bloc of senators on the nomination and who receive substantial election support from black voters.

At the same time, Bob Packwood of Oregon became the first Republican senator to announce his opposition to Bork. Packwood, a strong supporter of abortion rights, had said last month that he probably would oppose Bork because of the nominee's opposition to the high court's Roe vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal.

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