Political Education

Political Acrimony

The process of replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the Supreme Court has already turned into a bitter partisan battle. The political acrimony goes back several decades.

During the 1972 presidential campaign operatives for President Richard Nixon broke into the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. The Watergate was home to the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The burglars were looking for information that would be useful in President Nixon’s reelection effort.

Attorney General Elliot Richardson appointed former Kennedy administration Solicitor General Archibald Cox as special prosecutor in the Watergate affair.

President Nixon had discussed plans to cover up the Watergate scandal in the White House Oval Office. Those discussions were tape-recorded. You’ll need to keep a score sheet for what followed.

When special prosecutor Cox subpoenaed the White House tapes, President Nixon demanded that Attorney General Richardson fire Solicitor General Cox. Richardson refused President Nixon’s order and resigned as Attorney General. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire special prosecutor Cox. Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus also refused, and like Richardson, resigned in protest. The next most senior Justice Department was Solicitor General Robert Bork. Bork carried out President Nixon’s order to fire special prosecutor Cox. The firing of the Watergate special prosecutor came to be known as the ‘Saturday Night Massacre‘.

Fast forward to 1987. Moderate swing vote Justice Lewis Powell retired from the Supreme Court. President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork to take Powell’s place. The Bork nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee became a bitter partisan battle, partially because of Bork’s stand on civil rights, but especially because of his part in the Watergate cover-up. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Bork nomination along to the full Senate with a recommendation that it be rejected. The full Senate voted along largely partisan party lines to defeat Bork’s nomination. There has been partisan acrimony over Supreme Court nominations ever since Reagan’s choice was “Borked”. Oh, one other name to add to your score sheet- the name of the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who recommended that Bork’s nomination be defeated: Delaware Senator Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to tonynetone for the image.

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