Judge Bork was obviously deeply distressed by having that painful period in his personal life dragged into the political arena and his actions in those years twisted and distorted beyond recognition. When Judge Bork rested his head in his hands and covered his eyes, Judiciary Committee chairman Joseph Biden -- to his credit -- called a recess.
But, when it was proposed to end the hearings for the day, Senator Arlen Specter refused to agree. He wasn't prepared to wait to get his shots in against Judge Bork. Senator Specter's agenda was more important to him than common decency.
As the hearings went on, it became clear that Senator Specter's agenda was also more important to him than the Constitution's separation of powers, for the Senator was clearly judging Judge Bork not on his high qualifications but on whether or not he was likely to uphold policies that Senator Specter liked.
He demanded to know "where's the predictability in Judge Bork." He asked: "Where's the assurances for this committee and the Senate of where you'll be?"
Judges in general, and Justices of the Supreme court in particular, are supposed to be impartial and independent in judging the specific merits of whatever cases arise -- not predictable. What does the separation of powers mean if one branch of government can prescribe in advance what members of another branch of government must do on specific issues?
Then and now, Senator Specter has been one of those to whom what matters is not a judicial nominee's qualifications but how they are likely to vote on abortion, anti-trust laws, or whatever.
Senator Specter is also one of those people who is often wrong but never in doubt. He has mangled the meaning of such basic concepts as "judicial activism" and "original intent." It would be a tragedy for him to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he could mangle nominees and in the process mangle the Constitution of the United States.