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Walter Olson | Behind the smears of Robert Bork

Here’s something you may not know about the 1987 battle that kept Robert Bork off the Supreme Court: Opponents pursued a whispering campaign against him on the grounds that he wasn’t enough of a religious believer.

Back then, many Democrats still held seats in the rural South, and the religion angle gave them an easier way to explain their stance to constituents than, We’ve been asked to oppose him as a party-line matter.

Thus Rep. John Bryant (D-Texas) warned that Bork was “an agnostic who is not a member of any church.”

And Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), while disclaiming any“religious test for judges,” advised “fundamental religious people” back home to “look, in addition to what he has written, at [Bork’s] statements on morals or lack thereof — and I don’t mean to suggest he is immoral— but his lack of occupation with morals and with religion.”

“Never in memory had a judicial nomination been fought in such language. Why?”

Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) told constituents he was“disturbed by [Bork’s] refusal to discuss his belief in God — or the lack thereof.” Heflin also alluded darkly to the nominee’s beard and “strange lifestyle” as a Yale law professor.


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