Robert Bork, the U.S. judge and legal scholar whose nomination to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan set off a battle that lives on today long after the U.S. Senate rejected him, has died. He was 85.
There can be no doubt Bork died a bitter man with the legacy he was dealt by the likes of Sen. Ted Kennedy and the Senate liberals.
Bork died yesterday at Virginia Medical Center in Arlington, Virginia of heart disease.
The judge’s defeat in the Senate by a roll call of 58 to 42, the most votes ever against a Supreme Court nominee, established new rules for how prospective justices get selected and vetted. The word “borking” became a familiar term for public office candidates rejected in their quest for various positions.
In 1987, during Senate confirmation hearings nationally televised, the Senate Judiciary Committee delved into Bork’s ideology. Not merely legal qualifications, but his past commentary on controversial issues that became targets for his questioners.
Ideological lines were drawn almost overnight after President Reagan, on July 1, 1987, announced his selection of Bork, a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to succeed Lewis F. Powell Jr., who was retiring.
Long before the confirmation process began, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the Judiciary Committee chairman then seeking the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination (before bowing out due to resume plagiary), led the fight against Bork.
From civil right rulings Bork had made to abortion where he had testified at a 1981 Senate hearing that Roe v. Wade, Bork’s judicial thinking was brought under intense attack.
No one was more of an anti-Bork advocate than Senator Edward Kennedy. He said Bork “is publicly itching to overrule many of the great decisions of the Supreme Court that seek to fulfill the promise of justice for all Americans.”
Hardly a correct statement, but enough to rally liberal senators to his “cause” and forever chisel in political granite the roots for today’s congressional gridlock in Washington.
Advocacy groups representing blacks, women and labor mobilized to defeat Bork. To join in, the American Civil Liberties Union dropped a 51-year-old neutrality policy on judicial and executive-branch nominations. Actor Gregory Peck narrated an anti-Bork television commercial by People for the American Way, a group founded by “All in the Family” producer Norman Lear.
Bork’s allies included Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority which delivered more than 20,000 postcards to the Judiciary Committee supporting confirmation. Concerned Women for America ran radio ads in Washington and print ads in the home states of select senators.
All to no avail for Judge Bork.
On Oct. 6, the Senate committee voted 9-5 against recommending confirmation. All eight Democrats, plus Specter, voted against Bork. Facing pressure to withdraw before the full Senate voted, Bork vowed to fight on.
The vote set off a firestorm in Washington. Even the liberal Washington Post editorial board that had opposed Bork’s confirmation described the doomed confirmation as a campaign against him that “did not resemble an argument so much as a lynching.”
The full Senate’s 58-42 defeat of Bork on Oct. 23 was mostly along party lines, with six Republicans opposing him and two Democrats supporting him.
Foure months after the Senate vote, Bork stepped down as an appellate judge. He worked at the American Enterprise Institute until 2003, then at the Hudson Institute. He was an adviser to Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.
The politics in Washington were changed for the worse that cold October day and have worsened by the year since.
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