Biden Wants to Work With ‘the Other Side.’ This Supreme Court Battle Explains Why.

In the clash over Robert H. Bork’s nomination, Joe Biden’s moderate instincts defined a winning strategy.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. was on the brink of victory, but he was unsatisfied.

Mr. Biden, the 44-year-old chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was poised to watch his colleagues reject President Ronald Reagan’s formidable nominee to the Supreme Court, Robert H. Bork. The vote was unlikely to be close. Yet Mr. Biden was hovering in the Senate chamber, plying Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, a Republican of modestly conservative politics and regal bearing, with arguments about Bork’s record.

Rejecting a Supreme Court nominee was an extraordinary act of defiance, and Mr. Biden did not want a narrow vote that could look like an act of raw partisan politics.

“We already had Bork beat,” said Mark Gitenstein, who was then chief counsel to Mr. Biden’s committee. “But Biden really wanted to get Warner because he had such stature.”

Mr. Biden’s entreaties prevailed: Mr. Warner became one of 58 senators to vote against Bork, and one of six Republicans.

The Senate’s resounding rejection of Judge Bork in the fall of 1987 was a turning point, the first time it spurned a nominee to the high court for primarily ideological reasons. The vote ensured that the court’s swing seat would not go to a man with a long history of criticizing rulings on the rights of African-Americans and women. It also enraged a generation of conservatives and transformed the judge’s name into an ominous verb: Fearful of getting “Borked,” no nominee would ever again speak so freely about his views as Bork did.

The Senate’s resounding rejection of Judge Robert H. Bork in the fall of 1987 was a turning point, the first time it spurned a nominee to the high court for primarily ideological reasons.

It was also a personal turning point for Mr. Biden. In the Bork debate, Mr. Biden’s political ethos found its most vivid and successful expression.

A review of Mr. Biden’s conduct in the debate — including interviews with 16 people directly involved in the nomination fight, and a review of the hearings and Mr. Biden’s speeches — yielded a portrait of Mr. Biden as an ambitious young senator determined to achieve a vital liberal goal by decidedly unradical means.

The strategy Chairman Biden deployed then is the same one he is now proposing to bring to the White House as President Biden.

In the 1980s, as today, he saw bipartisan compromise not as a version of surrender, but as a vital tool for achieving Democratic goals.

Then, as now, Mr. Biden saw the culture and traditions of the Senate not as crippling obstacles, but as instruments that could be bent to his advantage.

And in both defining moments — his leadership of the Bork hearings and his third presidential campaign — Mr. Biden made persuading moderates, rather than exciting liberals, his guiding objective.

Mr. Biden, whose campaign declined to make him available for an interview, has strained to defend this approach in the 2020 presidential primary, offering only a halting rationale for a political worldview that other Democrats see as out of date. His rivals have branded him as a timid and even reactionary figure — a creature of the Senate cloakroom who partnered with former segregationists to pass draconian anti-crime legislation and joined with the business lobby to tighten bankruptcy laws.

And Mr. Biden’s opponents point not to the Bork hearings but a different confirmation battle as proof that his instincts are flawed. Four years after Bork was defeated, Mr. Biden would again take an accommodating approach to his Republican colleagues during Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings, allowing harsh and invasive questioning of Anita Hill, the law professor who accused the nominee of sexual harassment. Mr. Biden would later express “regret” for the treatment she endured.

But he has never regretted the conciliatory style that led him to triumph against Bork. In that process, every important decision Mr. Biden made was aimed at winning over conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans — men like Mr. Warner.

Now 92, Mr. Warner said in an interview that his memories of the Bork hearings had grown foggy over the years. But two impressions were indelible, he said. The first concerned Reagan’s nominee: “I never encountered a man with a shorter temper,” Mr. Warner said.

The second concerned the caliber of the Senate’s deliberations.

It was a real, solid, good debate, led by Biden,” Mr. Warner said. “He showed extraordinary leadership.”

The outcome was not foreordained, for either Bork or Mr. Biden. The debate unfolded at a moment of humiliation for Mr. Biden, whose first campaign for president unraveled as the Bork hearings approached their climax. And the judge was no timid adversary, as the journalist Ethan Bronner wrote in a book on the nomination.

Robert Bork,” Mr. Bronner wrote, “was a man of war.”

Mr. Biden was seated behind a desk in a spacious living room adjoining his study at his Wilmington, Del., home. A few aides sat or stood around the room, where pizza was in generous supply. Squared off against Mr. Biden was Robert H. Bork — or rather, a convincing simulacrum played by the constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe.

Mr. Tribe and Mr. Biden would spar for hours in a series of sessions that August, joined occasionally by other legal experts who would help Mr. Biden hone his queries on subjects from antitrust regulation to sexual privacy.

Biden’s questions were really smart, and they also needed some sharpening,” Mr. Tribe said in an interview, citing Mr. Biden’s tendency to “ask one thing and mean something slightly different.”

Mr. Biden came to those training sessions by a jagged path, shaped by pressure from progressive activists and the delicate politics of the Judiciary Committee. He was arming himself to oppose Bork, but not with the methods of the left.

On the day Bork was nominated, liberals viewed Mr. Biden with suspicion. Taking over one of the Senate’s great committees at a boyish — for the Senate — age of 44, Mr. Biden had already split with progressives on the issue of busing as a means of desegregating schools. Until Bork, the authors Michael Pertschuk and Wendy Schaetzel would write, Mr. Biden “had been reluctant to challenge Reagan’s transformation of the federal judiciary.”

The previous November, the soon-to-be chairman had given liberals new reason for concern, suggesting to The Philadelphia Inquirer that he might one day vote to put Bork on the Supreme Court, should he be Reagan’s next nominee.

“I’m not Teddy Kennedy,” he told the newspaper.

When Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., a flexible conservative, resigned from the court in late June, Mr. Biden found himself in the shadow of Kennedy, the party’s leading liberal, and laboring to reconcile his own moderate instincts with a mood of alarm on the left. When the White House announced Bork’s nomination on the first day of July, Kennedy delivered a thunderous warning from the Senate floor: In “Robert Bork’s America,” Kennedy said,

  • women would be forced into back-alley abortions,
  • blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”

The scathing address was a call to arms for the left, and it helped animate a coalition of progressives — led by feminists, civil rights activists and labor unions — that applied pressure to undecided senators throughout the summer.

His record was so extensive, and it touched almost every issue of importance to American life,” said Nan Aron, a leading anti-Bork activist. “It wasn’t simply a single issue that caused people to be alarmed.”

Another purpose of Kennedy’s speech, his allies have said, was to ensure Mr. Biden would not cave.

One of the reasons for ‘Robert Bork’s America’ was to freeze Biden,” Jeffrey Blattner, a Kennedy aide, would say decades later, in an oral history for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. “He’s running for president. We didn’t want to leave him any choice.”

Mr. Biden quickly aligned himself with Kennedy, and, at his liberal colleague’s urging, secured an agreement from Senator Strom Thurmond — the 84-year-old former segregationist who was the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican — to delay Bork’s hearings until September.

Biden was under a lot of pressure, particularly from the liberal senators,” said former Senator Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, a centrist Democrat who said he began the confirmation process favorably disposed toward Bork. “At first, I was leaning strongly to vote for him.”

Even as he pledged to oppose Bork, Mr. Biden made clear to progressive leaders in a private meeting that he saw his role as sharply distinct from theirs. He would play an inside game aimed at swaying Senate moderates, starting with the four undecided members of his committee:

  1. Mr. DeConcini and two other Democrats,
  2. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and
  3. Howell Heflin of Alabama, and a Republican,
  4. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Ralph Neas, a civil rights activist who joined the liberals’ initial meeting with Mr. Biden, said the chairman conveyed “that he would take the lead and we would try to put together a bipartisan coalition.”

Biden’s street cred with a lot of the centrists was quite high,” Mr. Neas said.

Mr. Biden was blunter with his aides: He would not adopt Kennedy’s rhetoric or make abortion his central cause. According to a book Mr. Gitenstein published in 1992 about the confirmation fight, Mr. Biden feared Bork would overturn Roe v. Wade but told aides he did not see the case as “great constitutional law.” More disturbing to him — and, he believed, more likely to sway undecided voters — was a Connecticut case on contraception that revealed Bork’s doubts about a broader right to privacy.

“It really concerns me more than abortion,” Mr. Biden is quoted as saying in the book.

In their sessions, Mr. Tribe said, the future vice president wrestled not just with Bork’s record but also with the idea of disqualifying nominees based on individual issues.

“I remember pushing back on Biden, saying, ‘If you think Roe v. Wade really ought to be the law of the land, shouldn’t that count?’” Mr. Tribe recalled. “He said, ‘Yes, it should count a lot, but I still don’t want to have a flat litmus test.’”

Mr. Tribe remembered thinking: “This guy’s a little bit more cautious than I am. But that’s fine, he’s playing a different role.”

Mr. Biden’s self-assigned role was readily apparent as the Bork hearings began in mid-September. Beaming down at the judge from a crowded dais, Mr. Biden praised him as man of towering achievement and “provocative” views. Flanked by Kennedy at one elbow and Thurmond at the other, Mr. Biden said the hearings should not be “clouded by strident rhetoric from the far left or the far right.”

Anytime you feel you want to expand on an answer, you are not bound by time,” Mr. Biden encouraged Bork, adding in a tone of levity, “Go ahead and bog us down.”

In the Bork hearings, every important decision Mr. Biden made was aimed at winning over conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans.
In the Bork hearings, every important decision Mr. Biden made was aimed at winning over conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans.CreditJose

The judge, bearded and broad shouldered, did not recognize the trap.

Few men could have been more prepared to face a constitutional interrogation. A former Yale Law School professor who served as the country’s solicitor general and, amid the maelstrom of Watergate, as acting attorney general, Bork brought to the hearings a reputation for quick eloquence and utter mastery of the law.

Mr. Biden had no such reputation, and the columnist George F. Will spoke for much of Washington when he predicted Bork would be “more than a match for Biden.”

The chairman gave his colleagues wide latitude to question Bork, whose testimony consumed five days. It culminated in an unusual Saturday hearing that was dominated by an hourslong debate between Bork and Specter, a former district attorney who frequently rode the Amtrak rails with Mr. Biden, about the meaning of constitutional intent. Mr. Biden had offered Specter half an hour for his questions; when Specter balked at the time limit, Mr. Biden relented and opened the way for a crucial exchange.

“His debate with my father on constitutional law did reveal him to be not sufficiently respectful of precedent, which pushed my father against him, and pushed other swing senators against him,” said Shanin Specter, the senator’s son and a Philadelphia lawyer. “It would not have happened if Biden, as chair, hadn’t permitted the hearings to go exactly as long as they needed to go.”

Mr. Biden sought, too, to quash attacks on Bork that he saw as risking political backlash. He shot down a plan to ambush Bork with a recording of a speech he gave in 1985, insisting on sharing it with the judge before airing it in the committee. And Mr. Biden and his aides refused a request from a number of prominent activists, including Ralph Nader, to testify in opposition to Bork. The left was applying powerful pressure from outside the Senate, but Mr. Biden preferred that its leaders stay there — on the outside.

Ms. Aron, who would later clash with Mr. Biden over the nomination of Justice Thomas in 1991, said the combination of popular pressure on the Senate and Mr. Biden’s high-minded hearings doomed the nominee.

What defeated Robert Bork was public pressure,” Ms. Aron said. “But what allowed the public to engage was a review of Bork’s record.”

And Bork did himself few favors: While he assured senators, in his rumbling voice, that he would not overturn rulings capriciously, he struggled to explain away past comments decrying “dozens” of shoddy Supreme Court decisions or deriding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or ridiculing the concept of a constitutional right to privacy. He startled even some allies by describing as “troublesome” the reasoning behind a 1954 case desegregating public schools in the nation’s capital.

In his questions, Mr. Biden posed as a mere mortal grappling with the ideas of a giant.

“Clearly, I do not want to get into a debate with a professor,” Mr. Biden stressed, prodding Mr. Bork about the Griswold v. Connecticut case that ended a state prohibition on birth control: “As I hear you, you do not believe there is a general right of privacy that is in the Constitution.”

“Not one derived in that fashion,” Bork said of the popular decision. “There may be other arguments, and I do not want to pass upon those.”

Watching Bork’s testimony, his political backers knew he was losing. He was articulate, but he was also argumentative. His knowledge of the law was powerful, his political antennae were not.

“I can’t blame Biden,” reflected Tom Korologos, the Republican lobbyist tasked with ushering Bork onto the court. “I blame Bork and Specter, and the other senators, for going on and on.”

Every swing vote on Mr. Biden’s committee swung against Bork, sending him to the floor with a negative recommendation by a vote of 9 to 5. The White House offered Bork the chance to withdraw; he chose martyrdom instead.

His supporters gave him that much, accusing Bork’s opponents of bowing to activists like Mr. Neas and Ms. Aron. “The man’s been trashed in our house,” Senator John Danforth, Republican of Missouri, lamented on the Senate floor. “Some of us helped generate the trashing. Others of us yielded to it.”

Mr. Biden called Mr. Danforth’s complaint an insult to the Senate.

“I have a higher opinion of the ability of my colleagues to do what’s right than, apparently, the senator from Missouri does,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s approach to the Bork nomination was a legislative and political success, one he experienced as personal redemption after his presidential candidacy crumbled. It brought to maturity the strategic instincts that defined him in subsequent battles — including his contested stewardship of the Thomas hearings — and that shape his candidacy today.

The fate of Mr. Biden’s campaign, and perhaps a future presidency, may hinge on whether that version of leadership, defined by collegiality and adherence to procedure, can inspire Democrats and coax cooperation from Republicans. In the presidential race, there is no Ted Kennedy to sound a trumpet for the left while Mr. Biden plays a methodical inside game. And there are no Republicans to be found in the Senate like Specter, who eventually, at Mr. Biden’s urging, quit the G.O.P. to become a Democrat before his death in 2012.

Still, Mr. Gitenstein said he had encouraged the former vice president to draw public attention to his role in the 1987 court fight. The defeat of Robert Bork averted a solidly conservative majority, handing the court’s decisive seat to the more pliant Anthony M. Kennedy, who became a decisive figure in a generation’s worth of eclectic rulings on subjects from campaign finance and union rights to abortion and the legal definition of marriage.

“I don’t think he or anyone else makes enough of the fact that, but for Biden, Roe would be dead 30 years ago, and, but for Biden, we wouldn’t have the gay marriage decision,” Mr. Gitenstein said. “I’ve talked to him about it. He’s got so much on his platter.”

Mr. DeConcini, who at 82 is a supporter of Mr. Biden’s campaign, said he hoped a strategy of moderation could prevail again.

But he admitted to having doubts.

“I’d like to think so, I really would,” Mr. DeConcini said. “I’m just not sure.”

Daniel Pantaleo, N.Y.P.D. Officer in Eric Garner’s Death, Should Be Fired, Judge Says

Five years after Eric Garner’s death in police custody ignited a national outcry, a police administrative judge recommended on Friday that the officer who placed him in a chokehold during the botched arrest should be fired.

The finding sets in motion the final stage of a long legal and political battle over the fate of the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who has become for many critics of the New York Police Department an emblem of what they see as overly aggressive policing in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

How to handle Officer Pantaleo has been a political minefield for both Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill — who now must decide whether to fire him and incur the wrath of police unions — and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who for years has expressed solidarity with the Garner family while avoiding saying whether Officer Pantaleo should remain on the force.

For the police, Mr. Garner’s death was a watershed moment, forcing a reckoning over how the department engaged with its residents. Across the country, his last words — “I can’t breathe” — became a battle cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, and led to sweeping changes in use-of-force policies.

But Officer Pantaleo’s continued employment has shadowed Mr. de Blasio, dogging him as he embarked on a run for president as a progressive Democrat. The mayor, who ran on a platform of police reform, has worked to reduce incarceration, cutting the number of arrests for minor crimes, but he has also labored to avoid alienating rank-and-file officers.

His unwillingness to call for Officer Pantaleo’s dismissal came up at the Democrat’s national debate on Wednesday night when he was criticized by his fellow New Yorker, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and by protesters shouting “Fire Pantaleo.”

On Friday, Mr. de Blasio said the Garner family had waited too long for action and had been failed by federal and state law enforcement prosecutors. But he again declined to say whether he believed Officer Pantaleo should be fired.

“Today, we finally saw a step toward justice and accountability,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We saw a process that was actually fair and impartial, and I hope this will now bring the Garner family a sense of closure and the beginning of some peace.”

Under the City Charter and court rulings, Mr. O’Neill has the final say over whether Officer Pantaleo will be dismissed and lose his pension. Prosecutors and the defense typically have up to two weeks to respond to the findings of the judge, Rosemarie Maldonado, a deputy police commissioner who oversees disciplinary hearings.

Mr. O’Neill could decide to uphold, modify or reverse her findings, which were confirmed by two people familiar with the decision. The officer could also resign ahead of a decision.

In recent weeks, Mr. O’Neill has found himself caught between elected officials and community leaders who have been calling for the officer to be fired and leaders of police unions who have cast Officer Pantaleo as a scapegoat.

The Garner family called on Mr. O’Neill to dismiss the officer immediately. “This has been a long battle,” Mr. Garner’s daughter, Emerald Snipes Garner, said at a news conference in Manhattan with the Rev. Al Sharpton. “And finally, somebody has said that there’s some information that this cop has done something wrong.”

But the president of the Police Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch, warned that the commissioner and the mayor would lose the support of officers if the decision was made to terminate Officer Pantaleo. “This decision is pure insanity,” he said in a statement. “If it is allowed to stand it will paralyze the N.Y.P.D. for years to come.

A Police Department spokesman said Mr. O’Neill had yet to receive a copy of the judge’s report and would not make a decision until later this month, after lawyers for both sides have a chance to comment on the conclusions. Mr. O’Neill did suspend Officer Pantaleo on Friday.

“All of New York City understandably seeks closure to this difficult chapter in our city’s history,” the spokesman, Phillip Walzak, said. “Premature statements or judgments before the process is complete however cannot and will not be made.”

The judge’s recommendation comes two weeks after Attorney General William P. Barr announced that the Justice Department would not seek a federal indictment against the officer on civil rights charges, ending five years of internal debate among federal prosecutors.

Though Mr. de Blasio is not allowed to directly fire a police officer, he can influence the decision because the police commissioner serves at his pleasure. Mr. de Blasio has said he cannot publicly express an opinion on Officer Pantaleo’s status because it could be seen as an attempt to influence the department’s decision, exposing the city to a lawsuit.

Mr. Lynch, the union president, said the mayor had already exerted that influence with his remarks on the presidential debate stage. “We have a mayor who predetermined the outcome,” he said. “He said the family will get justice. Of course that family’s justice is finding a police officer guilty and firing them.”

Officer Pantaleo was captured on video using a chokehold on Mr. Garner in 2014 as he and other officers subdued him. Mr. Garner was believed to be illegally selling loose cigarettes. A city medical examiner determined that the chokehold set in motion a “lethal cascade” of events, including an asthma attack and a fatal heart attack.

[The Pantaleo case has shadowed Mr. de Blasio on the presidential campaign trail.]

Officer Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said the judge had ignored the evidence and bowed to outside political pressure. He said Officer Pantaleo was disappointed but would continue to fight to keep his job. “This case was won in that courtroom,” Mr. London said. He added that, “Politics trumped, unfortunately, the rule of law.”

In the 47-page decision, dated Friday, Ms. Maldonado

Five years after Eric Garner’s death in police custody ignited a national outcry, a police administrative judge recommended on Friday that the officer who placed him in a chokehold during the botched arrest should be fired.

The finding sets in motion the final stage of a long legal and political battle over the fate of the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who has become for many critics of the New York Police Department an emblem of what they see as overly aggressive policing in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

How to handle Officer Pantaleo has been a political minefield for both Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill — who now must decide whether to fire him and incur the wrath of police unions — and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who for years has expressed solidarity with the Garner family while avoiding saying whether Officer Pantaleo should remain on the force.

For the police, Mr. Garner’s death was a watershed moment, forcing a reckoning over how the department engaged with its residents. Across the country, his last words — “I can’t breathe” — became a battle cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, and led to sweeping changes in use-of-force policies.

But Officer Pantaleo’s continued employment has shadowed Mr. de Blasio, dogging him as he embarked on a run for president as a progressive Democrat. The mayor, who ran on a platform of police reform, has worked to reduce incarceration, cutting the number of arrests for minor crimes, but he has also labored to avoid alienating rank-and-file officers.

His unwillingness to call for Officer Pantaleo’s dismissal came up at the Democrat’s national debate on Wednesday night when he was criticized by his fellow New Yorker, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and by protesters shouting “Fire Pantaleo.”

On Friday, Mr. de Blasio said the Garner family had waited too long for action and had been failed by federal and state law enforcement prosecutors. But he again declined to say whether he believed Officer Pantaleo should be fired.

“Today, we finally saw a step toward justice and accountability,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We saw a process that was actually fair and impartial, and I hope this will now bring the Garner family a sense of closure and the beginning of some peace.”

Under the City Charter and court rulings, Mr. O’Neill has the final say over whether Officer Pantaleo will be dismissed and lose his pension. Prosecutors and the defense typically have up to two weeks to respond to the findings of the judge, Rosemarie Maldonado, a deputy police commissioner who oversees disciplinary hearings.

Mr. O’Neill could decide to uphold, modify or reverse her findings, which were confirmed by two people familiar with the decision. The officer could also resign ahead of a decision.

In recent weeks, Mr. O’Neill has found himself caught between elected officials and community leaders who have been calling for the officer to be fired and leaders of police unions who have cast Officer Pantaleo as a scapegoat.

The Garner family called on Mr. O’Neill to dismiss the officer immediately. “This has been a long battle,” Mr. Garner’s daughter, Emerald Snipes Garner, said at a news conference in Manhattan with the Rev. Al Sharpton. “And finally, somebody has said that there’s some information that this cop has done something wrong.”

But the president of the Police Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch, warned that the commissioner and the mayor would lose the support of officers if the decision was made to terminate Officer Pantaleo. “This decision is pure insanity,” he said in a statement. “If it is allowed to stand it will paralyze the N.Y.P.D. for years to come.”

A Police Department spokesman said Mr. O’Neill had yet to receive a copy of the judge’s report and would not make a decision until later this month, after lawyers for both sides have a chance to comment on the conclusions. Mr. O’Neill did suspend Officer Pantaleo on Friday.

“All of New York City understandably seeks closure to this difficult chapter in our city’s history,” the spokesman, Phillip Walzak, said. “Premature statements or judgments before the process is complete however cannot and will not be made.”

The judge’s recommendation comes two weeks after Attorney General William P. Barr announced that the Justice Department would not seek a federal indictment against the officer on civil rights charges, ending five years of internal debate among federal prosecutors.

Though Mr. de Blasio is not allowed to directly fire a police officer, he can influence the decision because the police commissioner serves at his pleasure. Mr. de Blasio has said he cannot publicly express an opinion on Officer Pantaleo’s status because it could be seen as an attempt to influence the department’s decision, exposing the city to a lawsuit.

Mr. Lynch, the union president, said the mayor had already exerted that influence with his remarks on the presidential debate stage. “We have a mayor who predetermined the outcome,” he said. “He said the family will get justice. Of course that family’s justice is finding a police officer guilty and firing them.”

Officer Pantaleo was captured on video using a chokehold on Mr. Garner in 2014 as he and other officers subdued him. Mr. Garner was believed to be illegally selling loose cigarettes. A city medical examiner determined that the chokehold set in motion a “lethal cascade” of events, including an asthma attack and a fatal heart attack.

Officer Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said the judge had ignored the evidence and bowed to outside political pressure. He said Officer Pantaleo was disappointed but would continue to fight to keep his job. “This case was won in that courtroom,” Mr. London said. He added that, “Politics trumped, unfortunately, the rule of law.”

Still, the judge cleared Officer Pantaleo of one charge against him: She found that he had not intentionally restricted Mr. Garner’s breathing.

Fred Davie, the chairman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency which acted as prosecutors at the disciplinary hearing, said the judge had vindicated the board’s long-held position that Officer Pantaleo had caused Mr. Garner’s death. “Commissioner O’Neill must uphold this verdict and dismiss Pantaleo from the department,” Mr. Davie said in a statement.

The chokehold was captured in bystanders’ videos of Mr. Garner’s July 17 arrest published by The New York Daily News.

One shows Officer Pantaleo’s arms gripping Mr. Garner’s upper body and quickly sliding up to his neck as the two stumbled to the ground. Mr. Garner repeated “I can’t breathe” 11 times as officers pressed him onto the sidewalk.

Both a grand jury on Staten Island and the Department of Justice declined to bring criminal charges against Officer Pantaleo. Federal prosecutors determined that Officer Pantaleo had used a chokehold, but they could not agree on whether they could prove it was intentional.

In the last two weeks, Mr. Garner’s relatives, backed by many of the city’s elected officials, have threatened to shut down the city if the de Blasio administration did not fire Officer Pantaleo.

On Friday, Mr. Garner’s family and their supporters said even Officer Pantaleo’s dismissal would not satisfy them, and they remain convinced Officer Pantaleo should have faced criminal charges in state or federal court. “Make no mistake about it, this is not justice for the Garner family,” the Rev. Sharpton said.

Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwenn Carr, also called on the commissioner to fire other officers involved in the arrest, including Officer Pantaleo’s partner, Justin Damico, and Lt. Christopher Bannon, who supervised the two officers and said in text messages that Mr. Garner’s death was “not a big deal.”

Police union lawyers argued at the disciplinary hearing that Officer Pantaleo had used an authorized takedown tactic to subdue Mr. Garner, who they said was resisting a lawful arrest.

Prosecutors from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a city agency that investigates police misconduct accusations, presented evidence that Officer Pantaleo performed a takedown technique that he had not been trained to use.

When it went wrong, instead of letting go, he clasped his hands to secure his grip around Mr. Garner’s neck, they said.

The prosecutors, Suzanne O’Hare and Jonathan Fogel, said that Mr. Garner was trying to talk the officers out of arresting him, just as he had done two weeks earlier with Officer Damico.

Mr. Davie said the evidence prosecutors had brought forward at the departmental trial “was more than sufficient to prove Pantaleo unfit to serve.”

Civil Rights and Obligations

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS—known as “the nun on the bus”—is someone I consider a modern prophet. She is the Executive Director of NETWORK, an organization that lobbies for socially just federal policies. On this “Independence Day” (in the United States), reflect on Sr. Simone’s invitation to co-create our collective freedom.

In the last half of the twentieth century, thankfully, our society began to engage in a serious process of trying to atone for the sin of slavery, and in doing so much emphasis was placed on promoting civil rights. An unintended consequence of this important movement was a heightened focus on individuals and individual exercise of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. The civil rights movement came out of community, but the legal expression focused on individuals’ capacity to exercise their freedoms. Some fearful Americans—largely white men who professed a conservative version of Christianity—felt threatened, as if there were not enough rights to go around. They sought to create their own “movement.” This reaction in part fueled the rise of the tea party movement. . . .

But a democracy cannot survive if various groups and individuals only pull away in different directions. Such separation will not guarantee that all are allowed the opportunity for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” All people must be recognized for their inherent dignity and gifts regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their place of origin. And all these gifts need to be shared in order to build up the whole.

So I have begun to wonder if the new task of the first half of the twenty-first century should be a commitment to civil obligations as a balance to the focus on civil rights.

Civil obligations call each of us to participate out of a concern and commitment for the whole. Civil obligations call us to vote, to inform ourselves about the issues of the day, to engage in serious conversation about our nation’s future and learn to listen to various perspectives. To live our civil obligations means that everyone needs to be involved and that there needs to be room for everyone to exercise this involvement. This is the other side of civil rights. We all need our civil rights so that we can all exercise our civil obligations.

The mandate to exercise our civil obligations means that we can’t be bystanders who scoff at the process of politics while taking no responsibility. We all need to be involved. Civil obligations mean that we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and we must advocate for those who are struggling to exercise their obligations. The 100 percent needs the efforts of all of us to create a true community.

It is an unpatriotic lie that we as a nation are based in individualism. The Constitution underscores the fact that we are rooted and raised in a communal society and that we each have a responsibility to build up the whole. The Preamble to the Constitution could not be any clearer: “We the People” are called to “form a more perfect Union.”

Electoral College Map Results: Historical Timeline

Change the year to display a different presidential election. Use the link below the legend for a more detailed narrative of that election including (for most years) an interactive electoral map that lets you change the course of history. For a different perspective, take a look at our ‘same since’ electoral maps, which track the increasing polarization of our country. You can also view maps since 1972 by margin of victory.