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Civility now

With their actions regarding Harriet Miers, it will be difficult for conservatives to object to the way nominees they favor in the future are treated

Issue: "New Orleans' comeback kids," Oct. 22, 2005

When Ronald Reagan made Robert Bork a Supreme Court nominee in 1987, the assault was immediate and savage. Sen. Ted Kennedy took to the floor of the United States Senate within 15 minutes to denounce "Robert Bork's America . . . a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, children could not be taught about evolution."

That was a high point. So relentless and unprincipled was the attack on Mr. Bork that a new verb was born, "to bork," which The New York Times defined as "to destroy a judicial nominee through a concerted attack on his character, background and philosophy."

When Clarence Thomas was nominated in 1991, liberals attempted a borking but lost. In the years since, conservatives have often denounced this resort to the tactics of personal destruction against judicial nominees.

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Now, though, many so-called conservatives have eagerly embraced the weapons of borking, originally forged on anvils of the left, for use in their crusade against Harriet Miers, even though she is pro-life, pro-gun, and loyal to the president. Those tactics? Anonymous allegations of intellectual deficiency, rumors of scandals as yet unrevealed, hints of jurisprudential unreliability, and-of course-relentless personal attacks.

It will be difficult for conservatives to object in the future to the employ of such tactics against nominees they favor. Similarly, the demand laid down by some on the right for a "paper trail" and certainty on judicial philosophy will morph into a demand by Senate Democrats for the same, and the objections mounted in the past to various lines of questioning will certainly sound hollow coming from any pundit denouncing Ms. Miers now for her purported lack of an "overarching" judicial philosophy.

Opponents of the Miers nomination from the right have every right to express their belief that nominee A or nominee B would have been a stronger nominee in their view. They do not know whether the Senate could have broken a filibuster, and they have not seen, of course, background files on their preferred candidate. But they can still assert their preference in terms that do not damage the long-term case for a return to civility and propriety in the nomination process.

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