The morning after Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr.’s good wife left the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room in tears, Katie Couric, on NBC’s Today Show, questioned Senator Joseph P. Biden, Jr. (D-DE). Sensing that the Democrats had likely blown it, Couric asked Biden if the Democrats hadn’t gone too far in questioning the Judge. The longtime Senator (34 years), of course, denied that the Democrats had been rough on the nominee, but then in the course of the discussion which followed Biden, in spite of himself, said perhaps it was just time to have a debate on the Senate Floor over judicial nominees and then vote them up or down.
I have been watching judicial nominations since President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Judge Abe Fortas to be Chief Justice. Senator Robert P. Griffin, then Republican Whip, organized an effort to block that nomination. Fortas not only did not get to be Chief Justice, he ended up resigning from the Court altogether following disclosure of financial irregularities. The Senate never voted on the nomination of Judge Homer Thornberry, who would have succeeded the resigned Justice Fortas. Republicans were convinced that they would win the 1968 Elections so they simply served notice that there would be no further consideration of Federal judicial nominees until after the 1968 Elections.
Harriet Miers may be the Thornberry of the Bush Administration - by all accounts a decent person but passed by on account of subsequent events.
The first Supreme Court nomination to get the kind of treatment by the liberals which Judge Alito has received was William H. Rehnquist, nominated in 1971 by President Richard M. Nixon. He later was elevated to Chief Justice by President Ronald W. Reagan and served in that capacity until his death last year. He was grilled in committee, although probably not enough to cause Mrs. Rehnquist to cry. There were heated speeches against him on the Senate Floor. He ultimately was confirmed but received the most votes against any Supreme Court nominee in modern times.
Then came Judge Robert H. Bork. On the same day President Reagan nominated him to the High Court (on the unanimous recommendation of the conservative movement, I might add), I telephoned Bork and was surprised to find him available. I was thrilled that he had been selected and was startled when he said, “I have a very bad feeling about all of this, especially because of the hearings.” He knew whereof he spoke.