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Bork Assailed on 'Extremist' Views, Praised for Womens' Rights Stand

September 23, 1987|DAVID LAUTER and RONALD J. OSTROW | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee, its hearings on Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork slowed by Republican committee members who support him, heard Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe denounce Bork on Tuesday as an extremist who thinks "most of the constitutional law developed since World War II is illegitimate."

At the same time, however, Carla Anderson Hills, a member of President Gerald R. Ford's Cabinet, praised Bork before the panel as a conscientious jurist who would defend the rights of women.

With the close grilling of Tribe and previous anti-Bork witnesses by committee Republicans, the Bork confirmation hearings have taken a curious turn.

Schedule Far Off Track

For much of the summer, Republican supporters of Bork complained that Democrats were delaying the proceedings in the hope of killing the nomination. Now that the hearings are in their second week, however, increasingly apprehensive Republican senators have thrown the schedule far off track by deluging anti-Bork witnesses with hostile questions.

"Some people are starting to say the Republicans are filibustering the nomination," said a disgruntled aide to the panel's senior Republican, Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said: "I've never in my time seen the minority ask so many questions. It's clear that the nomination is hanging in the balance."

The slip in the committee's schedule has all but eliminated the possibility that the panel will meet its goal of voting Oct. 1 on whether to recommend that the full Senate confirm Bork's appointment to the high court. That would guarantee that the court will open its 1987 term Oct. 5 with only eight justices, raising the possibility of deadlock on some issues.

Burger to Testify

The slow pace of the testimony Tuesday had one beneficial effect for the Republicans. It effectively ensured that today's testimony will be dominated by the pro-Bork views of former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Lloyd Cutler, counsel to former President Jimmy Carter.

The delay and the continuing sharp division over the nomination has taken its toll on committee members' tempers. In Tuesday's hearing, for example, Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), one of the panel's undecided members, objected to what he called White House efforts to pressure him by rounding up pro-Bork witnesses with Arizona ties.

And late Monday night, as the hearings dragged on until nearly 11 p.m., Republican members spent hours attacking the qualifications of members of the American Bar Assn.'s judicial screening panel who, according to published reports, were among the minority who voted that Bork was "not qualified."

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), for example, suggested that Los Angeles attorney Sam Williams should have been disqualified from the screening committee because he had been considered for a seat on the California Supreme Court by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and therefore presumably had a liberal bias.

Biden Interjects

On Tuesday, after Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) accused Tribe, a nationally known liberal, of allowing "strong political leanings" to color his view of Bork, Biden interjected: "It's very important that these ad hominem arguments cease."

Tribe said he continues to oppose Bork, even though the nominee changed his position on several major issues last week. His new stands are "illusory," Tribe said, because they are unclear, and he urged the Senate not to "gamble" with citizens' constitutional rights.

"The stakes are . . . higher than the future of one distinguished man, Robert Bork," Tribe said. "It's a question of where the risk should fall."

Hills, by contrast, praised Bork's view of the constitutional protections of equal rights, saying that Bork would properly allow legislatures to adopt laws that "take into account special needs of women." Moreover, she suggested, Bork would be "loath to set aside" the high court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which made abortion legal across the nation.

Later, however, Hills, an assistant attorney general and secretary of housing and urban development under Ford, backed off that prediction.

"You musn't hop on my speculation," she said. "I would not expect that the first case Justice Bork would set out to fix would be Roe vs. Wade. But who am I?"

Earlier this month, Hills compiled a series of essays by law professors and lawyers defending Bork's record that was widely distributed by White House officials.

After Hills' testimony, the committee heard from novelist William Styron and artist Robert Rauschenberg, who opposed Bork because of what they called his narrow views of free speech, and from a group of law enforcement officials who praised Bork as tough on crime.

White House officials have pressed the anti-crime theme as a pro-Bork argument, but Bork testified last week that he had little experience with criminal law and no strong views on the subject.

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