Lawyers preview debate over Bork Supreme Court nomination

The debate over the nomination of Robert Bork to the US Supreme Court - which will be aired by the Senate Judiciary Committee starting Sept. 15 - is being reviewed now by the nation's most prestigious group of lawyers at the American Bar Association meetings. Official programs at this week-long conference of lawyers and judges do not specifically address the Bork issue. However, liberal lawyer groups are sponsoring several discussions highlighting the judicial record of President Reagan's choice for the high court and attempting to alert delegates to the importance of the Senate's ``advice and consent'' role.

For instance, ABA members were invited to what was billed as a ``reception and briefing'' on the Bork nomination on Sunday. More than a dozen civil rights, minority, and child-advocacy groups sponsored the event. A $25 contribution was requested from those attending.

Meanwhile, background papers opposing the Bork appointment were distributed to the delegates and the press.

One by Duke University law Prof. Walter Dellinger stresses the importance of the Senate's taking a major role in evaluating a presidential nomination to the Supreme Court. Professor Dellinger has written that ``those who framed the Constitution recognized that the selection of justices was too important to be left to the discretion of a single individual.''

He goes on to say that the critical question today is whether ``members of the Senate are willing to discharge the responsibility for independent judgment entrusted to them by the Constitution.''

The Bork issue has even crept into several panel discussions including those on church and state and privacy.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, PTL and Moral Majority president, drew enthusiastic applause from some lawyers for his support of Bork. ``I have never met him [Bork], but I trust the President in these matters,'' Mr. Falwell said.

The archconservative Baptist added that he knew the nominee was ``committed to a strict interpretation of the Constitution.'' He also stressed that Ronald Reagan's ``chief legacy'' will be appointments to the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

University of California Law Dean Jesse Choper pointed out that ``few challenge Bork's basic qualifications.'' And Dean Choper said there is a tradition of ``senatorial deference to presidential ideology.''

He said there was a danger of ``not getting anyone confirmed'' if partisan politics plays too major a role in the selection and confirmation process.

Former California Gov. Edmond G. Brown Jr. said that ``conservatives have defined the Bork nomination as a test of their political strength. If he is turned down, this will show erosion.'' The Democratic ex-state official went on, ``Ronald Reagan is the most ideological president of this century. The Senate has a right to ask for a more balanced court.''

Some here believe that Bork's record in opposing so-called ``privacy rulings,'' such as the right to abortion and contraception, could negate key individual rights decisions of recent decades.

Los Angeles lawyer Barry Fisher says that if Bork becomes a member of the Supreme Court he will join Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in deferring many rights issues to state resolution.

In a panel assessing the emerging strengths of federal courts over 200 years, Stephen Reinhardt, judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, said he believed that President Reagan ``has a right to look for judges who reflect his values,'' referring to the Bork appointment. However, Judge Reinhardt said he was troubled by the Justice Department's approach, which he characterized as ``all we need is one more vote'' to turn around precedential decisions on issues like school prayer and abortion.

A.E. Dick Howard, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia, pointed out that presidential appointments to the federal bench are today getting greater public attention than at almost any time in the past. Professor Howard predicted the Bork confirmation hearings will turn into a ``morality play on the forces of good and evil.''

A veteran Texas lawyer said he resented the ``liberal bias'' on many of the ABA panels. And he predicted that Bork would easily be confirmed by the Senate.

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