Supreme Court Nomination

August 14, 1987

Report Outline
Special Focus


The president of the United States went on nationwide radio one March day and declared that he wanted “a Supreme Court that will enforce the Constitution as written—that will refuse to amend the Constitution by the arbitrary exercise of judicial power—amendment by judicial say-so.”

It was 1937, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was frustrated because the Supreme Court had declared much of his New Deal legislation unconstitutional. Half a century later, the same frustration produces the same thoughts not from a liberal Democratic president but from a conservative Republican one. In announcing his choice of U.S. Appeals Court Judge Robert H. Bork to replace retiring Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., President Reagan hailed the nominee as a “prominent and intellectually powerful advocate of judicial restraint” who “shares my view that judges' personal preferences and values should not be part of their constitutional interpretations.”

Neither Roosevelt nor Reagan, however, was as interested in abstract theories about judicial behavior as they were about political results. Both presidents, re-elected by landslides, felt thwarted by a slight majority of the Supreme Court, whose nine members were appointed for life. Roosevelt wanted his New Deal legislation upheld, and lacking court vacancies to fill with like-minded justices, he proposed to “pack” the court by expanding its size. Reagan, with a vastly different social agenda in mind, wants justices who will support school prayer, allow restrictions on abortion, reject affirmative action and restrain government regulators.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Sep. 28, 2012  Supreme Court Controversies
May 13, 2011  Class Action Lawsuits
Jan. 28, 2005  Supreme Court's Future
Sep. 17, 1993  Supreme Court Preview
Aug. 14, 1987  Supreme Court Nomination
Sep. 26, 1986  The Rehnquist Court
Oct. 26, 1979  Supreme Court and the Press
Sep. 22, 1978  Burger Court's Tenth Year
Jun. 24, 1977  Politics and the Federal Courts
Oct. 09, 1968  Challenging of Supreme Court
Sep. 28, 1966  Supreme Court: Legal Storm Center
Jan. 22, 1958  Criminal Prosecution and the Supreme Court
Jan. 23, 1952  Judges in Politics
Jun. 05, 1939  Supreme Court Decisions, 1938–39
Nov. 17, 1938  Supreme Court Appointments
May 31, 1938  Supreme Court Decisions, 1937–38
Jun. 01, 1937  Supreme Court Decisions, 1936–37
Jun. 01, 1936  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1935-36
Jun. 05, 1933  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1932-33
Jun. 04, 1932  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1931–32
Jun. 06, 1931  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1930–31
Jun. 09, 1930  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1929–30
Jun. 10, 1929  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1928-29
Jun. 09, 1928  Decisions of the Supreme Court 1927–28
Sep. 27, 1924  The Supreme Court Issue
Congress Actions
Judicial Appointments