Jewish World Review May 20, 2003 / 18 Iyar 5763

Paul Greenberg

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Another case of 'Borking' Judicial nominees are routinely assailed for everything they've ever said or done from approximately the age of 3, and quite a few things they haven't | Bork is no longer a proper noun in Washington, as in Judge Robert Bork, but a verb. It means to launch a vicious, irrelevant, roundhouse campaign against a judicial nominee, throwing in everything, including a couple of kitchen sinks.

The term stems from the treatment of Judge Bork when he was nominated to the Supreme Court. Not satisfied with relevant criticisms, and there were some, the judge's more partisan critics reached back to assail everything he'd said or done from approximately the age of 3, and quite a few things he hadn't.

That borking has become a Washington tradition by now — indeed, an addiction — is illustrated by an impressive editorial in the Washington Post the other day. Impressive for its sheer, twisted, mean-spirited irrelevance. It is, in a short, a prime example of borking.

This time the victim's name is Holmes. Leon Holmes, Esq., and he's just been nominated to a district judgeship here in Arkansas. Unable to find anything recent or relevant to criticize about Holmes — an outstanding advocate, scholar and thinker — the Post went back years and even decades to dig up a couple of quotes from his writings to use against him.

One of the quotes dates back to 1980 — yes, 1980, or 23 years ago — and Holmes apologized for it as soon as it was brought to his attention. It was a youthful pamphleteer's remark in the heat of a debate about abortion — something about rape's seldom resulting in pregnancy. He was wrong 23 years ago, and says so. For that, the Post sounds ready to condemn him to the judicial equivalent of outer darkness.

The other citation — a reference to Scripture in an article co-written with his wife in April of 1997 — is so wrenched out of context that you might never guess it was a philosophical rumination on the Book of Ephesians. Published in a Catholic newspaper. As a comment on a Sunday School lesson.

The quote itself was the usual, controversial passage about the husband being head of the household as Christ is head of the church. The Post didn't mention the preceding paragraph in which the Holmeses note that neither man nor woman is inferior to the other in Christian doctrine.

As any smear artist knows, there's no need to go into detail. Especially relevant detail. In this case an innocent reader would be left with no idea of what kind of nominee, or man, Leon Holmes really is. Which is the whole purpose of borking: to make the nominee look like the biggest, scariest menace that ever came down confirmation road. Actually, to quote an informal recommendation from a colleague, Leon Holmes is the kind of guy he'd be willing to shoot dice with over the phone.

The charge that Leon Holmes is in favor of the subjugation of women would amuse anyone who's ever met Susan Byrd Holmes, his outspoken wife and co-author, or any of the women in the law for whom he has been mentor, role model, supporter and encourager.

But I was glad to see that the Washington Post hadn't lost its talent for irony. Alas, in this case it's unintended irony. This editorial accuses the president of radicalizing judicial nominations by his choice of Leon Holmes for the bench, when it's the Post that's being radical, willing to go back into history to find any snippet penned by Holmes — or his wife — that might fail to show the proper reverence for today's politically correct gods.

In the process, the Post ignored the legal acumen and philosophical learning that the mature Leon Holmes has demonstrated day after day, year after year, in his career and life. Forget all that; the object is to crucify this nominee even if the Post has to use old, rusty nails. It's taken a couple of stray quotes and equated them with the man's whole career. A neat trick, if a low one. Joe McCarthy would be proud.

A confession: In recent years I'd started to grow soft on the Post's editorial page; on its good days it had started sound like one of those earnest, old-fashioned liberals not beyond the reach of reason. Clearly I was mistaken. For when the chance to do a little borking came along, the Post leaped at it, using the flimsiest of evidence and twisting even that. As if it couldn't help itself. Which may be the worst thing about borking; it's habit-forming. Once it becomes ingrained in a paper's character, there's no telling when it will seep out again.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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