Mr. Biden became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee after the 1986 elections, just in time to preside over the confirmation hearings for Robert Bork. In November 1986 Mr. Biden pledged to be fair: “Say the administration sends up Bork and, after our investigations, he looks a lot like Scalia. I’d have to vote for him, and if the [special‐interest] groups tear me apart, that’s the medicine I’ll have to take.” Justice Antonin Scalia had been confirmed 98–0 earlier that year, when Republicans controlled the Senate.
But then in June 1987, having heard from those groups on the presidential campaign trail, a chastened Mr. Biden advised Reagan that if he nominated Bork, “you’ll have trouble on your hands.” Sen. Ted Kennedy led the anti‐Bork demagoguery, but Mr. Biden’s sustained if sometimes imprecise attacks played a key role in derailing the nomination. During the confirmation hearings he presented a vague theory of a living Constitution and how rights expand with the times, to contrast with Bork’s view of fixed constitutional meaning.
Mr. Biden later orchestrated the Senate floor debate and inserted into the record a list of nearly 2,000 law professors who were against Bork, representing about 40% of practicing legal academics nationwide. As committee chairman, he coordinated the assault with Kennedy and others.