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Robert Bork

Legal scholar;

Born March 1, 1927 ; Died December 19, 2012.

Robert Bork, who has died aged 85 of heart disease, was a judge and legal scholar whose failed nomination to the US Supreme Court in the 1980s helped draw that country's modern boundaries of cultural fights over abortion, civil rights and other issues.

Brilliant, blunt, and piercingly witty, he had a long career in politics and the law that took him from respected academic to a totem of conservative grievance.

Mr Bork's defeat during the 1987 Senate court nomination hearings made him a hero to the right and a rallying cry for younger conservatives. The fight over Mr Bork was the first national political and lobbying offensive mounted against a judicial nominee, and it has defined every high-profile judicial nomination since.

The process also created a verb, "to Mr Bork", meaning vilification of a nominee on ideological grounds. Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy summed up the opposition to Mr Bork at the time by saying: "In Robert Bork's America there is no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women."

The experience embittered Mr Bork and hardened many of his conservative positions, even as it gave him prominence on the conservative speaking circuit.

Mr Bork became widely known as a conservative cultural critic. His 1996 book Slouching Towards toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, was an acid indictment of what he viewed as the crumbling ethics of modern society and the morally bankrupt politics of the left.

"Opportunities for teenagers to engage in sex are ... more frequent than previously; much of it takes place in homes that are now empty because the mothers are working," Mr Bork wrote. "The modern liberal devotion to sex education is an ideological commitment rather than a policy of prudence."

Mr Bork served a relatively short tenure on the bench. He was a federal judge on the nation's most prestigious appellate panel, the US Court of Appeals for the D C Circuit, from 1982 until 1988, when he resigned in the wake of the bitter Supreme Court nomination fight.

Earlier, he had been a private attorney, Yale Law School professor and a Republican political appointee. At Yale, two of his constitutional law students were Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham."I no longer say they were students," Mr Bork joked long afterward. "I say they were in the room."

President Richard Nixon named Mr Bork as solicitor general, the administration's advocate before the Supreme Court, in January 1973. Mr Bork later served as acting attorney general, then returned to the solicitor general's job until 1977, far outlasting the Nixon administration.

Long mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee, Mr Bork got his chance toward the end of Ronald Reagan's second term. He was nominated on July 1, 1987, to fill the seat vacated by Justice Lewis F. Powell.

Nearly four months later, the Senate voted 58-42 to defeat him. It was the largest negative vote ever recorded for a Supreme Court nominee.

Mr Reagan and Mr Bork's Senate backers called him eminently qualified – a brilliant judge who had managed to write nearly a quarter of his court's majority rulings in just five years on the bench, without once being overturned by the Supreme Court.

Critics called him a free-speech censor and a danger to the principle of separation of church and state. His opponents used his prolific writings against him, and some called him a hypocrite when he seemed to waver on some previous strongly-worded positions.

Despite a reputation for personal charm, Mr Bork did not play well on television. He answered questions in a seemingly bloodless, academic style and he cut a severe figure, with hooded eyes and heavy beard.

He was married to Claire Davidson from 1952 until 1980, when she died of cancer. They had a daughter, Ellen, and two sons, Robert and Charles. In 1982 he married Mary Ellen Pohl, a Roman Catholic religious sister turned activist.

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