Rules for the Rest of Us

What is it with this country’s moral scolds?


We see it over and over—Bill Bennett lecturing us on “values” while he’s losing more money than most of us make at Las Vegas’ gambling tables; Ted Haggard thundering against the “sin” of homosexuality while he’s paying a gay hooker; Paul Wolfowitz threatening to withhold World Bank dollars from countries with corrupt officials while he’s using public money to feather the nest of his live-in girlfriend. Our commander-in-chief, who routinely talks in terms of good and evil, had problems showing up for his own, stateside national guard duty, but evidently has no problem sending other people’s children off to fight in Iraq.


There would seem to be an epidemic of “do as I say, not as I do” going around.


The most recent high-profile victim of this epidemic is Judge Robert Bork. Bork, as many of you will recall, was nominated for a position on the Supreme Court, but failed to win confirmation when his radical opinions and truculent manner raised concerns about his judicial temperment. In the wake of that rebuff, he has gotten even more shrill, thundering against the “moral rot” of popular culture and advocating censorship, presumably to be imposed by people who agree with Robert Bork. He has written articles favoring stricter punishments for wrongdoers, and advocating “tort reform” restrictions on the right of injured parties to recover damages. In a 2002 article, Bork argued for a cap on “frivolous” claims and “excessive” damage awards. He has been particularly passionate in arguing against awards of punitive damages to injured plaintiffs.


Whatever the merits of these positions, they evidently are not meant to apply to the good Judge and his cronies. These are measures for the rest of us.


Recently, Judge Bork was one of twelve conservative law professors who asked permission to file an amicus or “friend of the court” brief urging clemency for convicted perjurer Scooter Libby. In its order granting the motion, the court dryly indicated that it expected to see these eminent conservatives “reaching out to other, more indigent, criminal defendents soon.” I wouldn’t hold my breath.    


Bork showed truly breathtaking chutzpah, however, following a fall as he was mounting the dias to make a speech at New York’s Yale Club. The good Judge has sued the Club for one million dollars plus—you guessed it—punitive damanges.


Perjury is a serious crime, as Judge Bork and other conservatives were quick to remind us when Bill Clinton was the perjurer.  If we should deny punitive damages to someone who lost a limb as a result of medical malpractice, why should a missing handrail entitle the Judge to receive them?  


As a self-styled constitutional “originalist,” Judge Bork has insisted upon the “neutral principles” of the law. Perhaps someone should remind him that a neutral principle is by definition one that applies to all persons who are similarly situated. To put that in language that even we peons understand, the same rules should apply to everyone.