WASHINGTON — A legal scholar, himself mentioned as a possible Supreme Court justice some day, said today that Robert Bork's views on the Constitution are so unusual they "could spell chaos" for the nation if he is confirmed.
Harvard University Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, who opposed Bork during lengthy questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, was followed by Bork supporters, including Carla Hills, who was secretary of housing and urban development in the Gerald R. Ford Administration.
As the hearings resumed today, the extraordinary length of the proceedings was becoming an issue. Republicans complained they could move more quickly if they were given more advance notice of upcoming witnesses. Committee chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) imposed stricter time limits on question-and-answer periods.
"It's clear this nomination is hanging in the balance," Biden said, noting that the length of questioning may be unprecedented. Bork testified for a record five days last week and on Monday the hearings lasted until 11 p.m.
Tribe, during his testimony, said of Bork's approach to the Constitution, "Not one of 105 (past and present justices) shares in his fundamentally narrow view of liberty."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) pointed out that Tribe, like Bork, has criticized many high court rulings. "These disagreements should not disqualify you" for consideration to be a justice, Hatch said. "I for one would resist anyone who said you would upset the balance on the court."
But Tribe said his objection to Bork does not rest on the number of times the federal appeals court judge and former law professor has criticized high court rulings.
"That's not the point at all," Tribe said. "It has nothing to do with a nose count."
He said the problem with Bork is his "judicial philosophy that seriously threatens constitutional values that have proven fundamental in American history."
Bork's "frozen concept of liberty is dangerous," Tribe said, and added, "If we believe something fundamental is at risk, we shouldn't take chances."
Also today, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who is considered a key swing vote on the divided committee, said Bork improved his chances of confirmation during testimony last week by softening his opposition to constitutional rulings affecting individual rights.