“As Ben Smith, the media columnist for The Times, suggested a few weeks ago, pretty much every journalist who passed through Washington, D.C., during the past half century knows President-elect Joe Biden and has a story to tell. I’d like to end this strange year, and welcome the new one and the new president, by telling mine.
I met then-Senator Biden in the mid-1980s, when he was a member of the Judiciary Committee and I was covering the occasional judicial confirmation. By 1987, he was chairman of the committee, after the Democrats retook the Senate in the 1986 midterms. That summer, President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.
Given the president’s success the year before in naming Justice William Rehnquist as chief justice and a little-known judge, Antonin Scalia, to fill Rehnquist’s associate justice seat, this nomination presented a huge challenge to Judge Bork’s opponents, and a disheartening one. Leaders of the liberal groups that assembled to fight the nomination of the outspoken conservative, a judge with reactionary views on civil rights and free speech, had little confidence that the Judiciary Committee’s chairman was up to the job.