Not everyone would want the endorsement of failed Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork. Even those who supported his nomination might find the outspoken judge a bit too controversial, especially in an election year.
But then, Attorney General David L. Wilkinson is not like everyone. And as the attorney prepares to announce his bid for a third term next week, he's proud to have Bork as the first in what he expects to be long list of endorsements."There's only one person whose endorsement would mean more to me than Robert Bork's and that's the endorsement of Ronald Reagan," Wilkinson said.
Of course, Bork was not in town to endorse Wilkinson. He was in Salt Lake City Thursday as part of a nationwide speaking tour in what he calls the war for control of the Constitution. He also came to endorse the re-election of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who was a vocal Bork supporter in the Senate hearings.
But unbeknownst to many people, Bork also had some kind remarks for Wilkinson, who also did what he could to support the nomination. In fact, those remarks were so thoroughly ignored that Wilkinson felt compelled to circulate them himself.
"I want to thank personally Attorney General David Wilkinson for his tireless efforts in support of my nomination," Bork said during the fund-raising event for Hatch. "Almost immediately after the president announced my name, Attorney General Wilkinson volunteered to help, and he kept working until the end."
Wilkinson faces a Democratic challenge from either Zane Gill or Paul Van Dam, whichever one emerges as the party's nominee. But perhaps of more concern to Wilkinson at this point is a possible intraparty challenge from Public Safety Commissioner John T. Nielsen. A Deseret News/KSL Poll shows Wilkinson leading Nielsen by a slim 34-27 percent margin, with 36 percent undecided.
The fact that Wilkinson would welcome Bork's endorsement says something about his approach to his job, an approach that hasn't always helped his popularity. Wilkinson is an ideologue and, in the words of one candid supporter, something of an "egghead" who doesn't believe in compromising on principle.
It's that attitude that led him to launch his ultimately unsuccessful legal fight for Utah's cable TV regulation a crusade that cost the state $700,000 in legal fees. He's also continuing his attack on two legislators who are also state employees, which Wilkinson believes violates the Utah Constitution's separation of powers provisions.
Similarly, it's that unflinching adherence to principle that led him to stump for Bork.
"If I made my decisions according to the polls, this job would not be fun," Wilkinson said. "And certainly what makes the job fun is to be able to stick by principle, and I think Bob Bork is one of the most principled jurists the country's ever seen."
One may wonder why Wilkinson would carry the Bork banner in a state half a continent away from the controversy. Part of it, again, is the principle involved, but Wilkinson also points out that the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court has an impact even in far-flung reaches of the country.
"If the new president gets one more appointment to replace either (William) J. Brennan, (Thurgood) Marshall or (Harry) Blackmun, at that point I think the majority of the Supreme Court will overrule Roe v. Wade (the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion. "So the appointment of a justice is of burning interest."
Wilkinson also believes a similarly constituted court might have looked more favorably on Utah's cable TV law a cause still dear to him.
"Now that we have Judge (Anthony) Kennedy, I think in another 2 or 3 years, we probably should have another justice or two, and it could be that with Kennedy and one more appointment, if it's the right vacancy being filled, they might want to look at another state's cable law, since ours was repealed by the Legislature."