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Backers Blame Bork Defeat on Lobbying by Foes

October 07, 1987|DAVID LAUTER and RONALD J. OSTROW | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — In the wake of Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork's defeat in the Senate Judiciary Committee, his supporters indignantly blamed the massive lobbying campaign against the nominee.

"This is a scary thing that's happening here on a nomination," said Tom Korologos, a veteran Republican lobbyist who has been advising the White House on its own considerable lobbying efforts during the Bork debate. "Gregory Peck advertisements on the radio, public opinion polls . . . . Is this how we operate now on Supreme Court nominations?"

Bork opponents rejected that complaint. "I find it fascinating that those who support Judge Bork . . . undersell and undercut the wisdom of the American people," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). "To suggest that the only reason people now are worried about Judge Bork" is lobbying and advertising "seems to miss the point."

In fact, the evidence suggests there is a measure of truth in both claims.

Getting Public Attention

The campaign against Bork, which even his supporters concede was better managed than the lobbying for him, played a crucial role in helping attract public attention to the debate.

In the end, however, what seems to have persuaded swing members of the committee was the jelling of public opinion about the nominee on two substantive issues: whether courts should play an active or restrained role in society and whether the nation was prepared to risk renewed struggles over such questions as civil rights and privacy.

Wavering committee members of both parties say they were influenced less by high-pressure lobbying tactics than by their own assessments of the issues and how their constituents felt about them.

Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) said earlier this week that the Bork nomination had generated such passion among voters that he figured he would make political enemies however he voted. "You go on to decide that your vote should be on what's best . . . for the Supreme Court," he said.

Decided to Oppose Bork

Heflin decided Tuesday afternoon that he would oppose Bork, delivering the ninth negative vote in the committee against five in favor of the nominee.

Judiciary Committee members said that the three weeks of nationally televised hearings preceding Tuesday's vote produced an extraordinary amount of information not only about Bork but also about the constitutional role of the judiciary.

"There is not a man on this committee who is not better educated on the Constitution," Biden said shortly before the vote. Nor, he added, is there "an American who watched these hearings who did not learn something about the document."

And those hearings in turn played a major role in molding public attitudes on the nomination.

Sen. Wyche Fowler Jr. (D-Ga.), one of about a dozen Southern Democrats who have not announced how they intend to vote on Bork, said that lobbying before the hearings had had only limited impact.

But on Tuesday he said: "In the last couple of weeks, I've really started hearing from people who want to talk with me."

In neighboring Alabama, Democratic Sen. Richard C. Shelby said that organized lobby groups canceled each other out. On one side, he said, were Bork's black opponents, many of them mobilized by civil rights organizations; on the other were conservative white voters, many of whom had been lobbied in fundamentalist Christian churches.

What stood out in his mind, Shelby said recently, were his conversations with "professional women--doctors, lawyers, CPAs--successful, 35 to 45 years of age, that had done real well, a lot of them people with Republican leanings."

Many of them, he said, had watched the hearings and read about the nomination and were telling him: "Don't vote for Bork."

Anti-Bork activists correctly anticipated the impact of the issues that appeared to be moving Shelby's constituents in Alabama and Fowler's in Georgia.

In early August, a confidential polling report for anti-Bork leaders predicted that moderate voters would swing against Bork if they became skeptical about his "fair-mindedness." Bork's "civil rights record, more than anything else in his background," could create that skepticism, the pollsters said.

Moreover, the poll undercut a key assumption of President Reagan--that the public was fed up with activist federal courts and believed that "judges should interpret the laws, not make them."

By contrast, the polling data told the anti-Bork leaders that, "when it comes to the Supreme Court, most Americans are inclined to support the status quo." Although about one-quarter of more than 1,000 voters surveyed believed that the high court had too much power, 55% said the court's level of influence was about right and 14% thought the court was not powerful enough.

Conservative activists dispute the notion that Tuesday's vote against Bork was a vindication of judicial activism. Many of them said that they could have won if the Administration had not portrayed Bork as a moderate in the image of Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., the man he was nominated to replace.

"It was a disaster the way they repackaged Bork," said conservative fund-raiser Richard A. Viguerie. "It's hard to get people to go out and fight, bleed and die for Lewis Powell."

But Korologos said: "If we had unleashed the conservatives with their hand grenades, we would have lost moderates.

"If we had it to do over," he said, "we would have worked harder, spent more money."

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