Robert Bork 1927-2012

19 December 2012

Robert Bork was not only an extraordinary and effective jurist, he was also a crucial figure in American conservatism.

In reporting news of his death certain media are – as here, running ‘Controversial conservative jurist Robert Bork dead at 85’ type headlines.

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As Roger Kimball points out in his piece here, the only reason Bork was ever considered ‘controversial’ was that when he was put forward as a candidate for the Supreme Court during the Reagan administration he was smeared and libelled in the most despicable way by Edward Kennedy.  As Kimball writes:

‘The so-called “Lion of the Senate,” Ted Kennedy… stood on the Senate floor and emitted a serious of calumnious lies designed not simply to prevent Judge Bork from being appointed to the Supreme Court but to soil his character irretrievably…

A breathtaking congeries of falsehoods that, were they not protected by the prerogatives of senatorial privilege, would have taken a conspicuous place in the annals of malicious slander and character assassination. In The Tempting of America, Judge Bork recounts his incredulity at this tissue of malign fabrication. “It had simply never occurred to me that anybody could misrepresent my career and views as Kennedy did.” At the time, he notes, many people thought that Kennedy had blundered by emitting so flagrant, and flagrantly untrue, an attack. They were wrong. His “calculated personal assault, . . . more violent than any against a judicial nominee in our country’s history,” did the job (with a little help from Joe Biden and Arlen Specter). Not only was Kennedy instrumental in preventing a great jurist from taking his place on the Supreme Court, he also contributed immeasurably to the cheapening of American political discourse.’

Robert Bork deserves to be remembered for many things.  But it is best to remember him not for this controversy, nor the despicable treatment he was forced to endure, but for his eminence as a jurist, his influence as a thinker and his profound intelligence and decency as a man.

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Show comments
  • belbylafarge

    He was a nasty piece of work and deserved what he got. It was necessary to stop him and his ilk taking America backwards. The wrold is a better place without him.

  • RJM

    To my mind Bork’s action to fire the Watergate Special
    Prosecutor Archibold Cox after then Attorney General Eliot Richardson and
    Deputy Attorney General Ruchelshaus had resigned rather than do so, implicated
    him in illegal actions to support the executive branch in its illegal
    activities. Additionally his originalist
    views led directly to his opposition to enforcement of civil rights and women’s
    rights in public places, an end result that suggests the premises on which he
    based his reasoning might not be a suitable means for deciding cases. These two issues alone certainly should have
    led to doubt about his suitability for the Supreme Court. That the opposition to Bork was ugly and inappropriate doesn’t alter the
    questions about his suitability for the post.

  • Daniel Maris

    The problem with Bork’s legal opinions was that they essentially allowed states rights to put in place Jim Crow style legislation.

    If you don’t think there was a problem with Bork, you have to explain how it was that when Bork’s opinions prevailed (in the period before the 1960s) there was such inequitable treatment of people, allowing some sections of the citizenry to be persecuted in the most violent and vile manner. Do you defend that?

  • David Lindsay

    The rejection of Bork but acceptance of Anthony Kennedy indicated a rejection of moral and social conservatism but an acceptance of neoliberal (allegedly “conservative”) economics. Adherents of that economic system need to think on that.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Your lefty soulmates destroyed Bork. They prefer infanticide, homosexual marriage and the like, and they want judges to enact such.

      So your people won.


  • Graham Brack

    To take one example from many, Kennedy misrepresented Bork’s opinion on the Griswold judgment. According to Kennedy, Bork denied that American couples had a right to privacy in their family life which impacted on their right to contraception. Yet Bork’s writings are very clear that he thought that legislators should make law accordingly, and not rely on judges to expand first amendment rights to encompass a purpose for which they were never designed. He said on more than one occasion that it was his job to apply the law as written, not as people would have liked it to be, and that he drew flak from liberals because they wanted judges to mandate what they had not been able to achieve through the legislature. That seems to me to be a fair assessment of what a judge should do. We’ll never know if he would have been a great Supreme Court Justice, but he’d have been better than some who got the job and he didn’t deserve the level of calumny he got.

  • OldSlaughter

    A great jurist.

    Upon hearing of his death I sat through the whole of his Senate hearings to witness the appalling treatment he received and the toxic scheming of the democrats present. As always, Thomas Sowell was a joy to hear.

    It doesn’t surprise me that you would pick up on this news and write this Douglas, and thank you for doing so.

    • la fold

      I recently watched that as well. And as you say Thomas Sowell, as always, a shining light in the quagmire which were the Bork hearings. How ted kennedy as the brass neck to criticise anyone, let alone cast slurs on someones character, is truly amazing

  • Rahul Kamath

    Bork is probably best described as a man behind his times. This could also be used to describe most of UKIP and parts of the Tory party.

    Douglas as always blames things on that great liberal conspiracy to defame all right minded conservatives.

    • OldSlaughter

      “great liberal conspiracy”

      Are you suggesting what occurred during his hearings was sound, fair and responsible? Instead of smearing Murray’s argument, why don’t you tell us where it is wrong?

      • Rahul Kamath

        Surely it’s up to the good Murray to tell us what the smears were instead of restricting himself to telling us that that naughty liberal Ted Kennedy smeared.

        • OldSlaughter

          No. They are public and clear. Why don’t you answer the simple yes and no question I posed?

          • Rahul Kamath

            They are neither public nor clear in Murrays article. And I’ll answer your question when I think u r worth my time and attention.

            • OldSlaughter

              Ha ha. So you think I am worth replying to but not in any meaningful way or a way that would demonstrate you are not full of BS? Fine. How very convenient.

        • La Fold

          im pretty sure that drink driving and causing someones death through it is more than a tad naughty.

          • Rahul Kamath

            Fair point but nothing to do w/ the Bork confirmation hearings.

            • Curnonsky

              Why not look up Teddy K’s odious speech about “Robert Bork’s America” for a start?

    • Steve

      Rahul, what exactly do you object to in Bork’s record? I bet you know nothing about the man.

      • Rahul Kamath

        What do you defend in it? His work on anti-trust was excellent. The rest would be better flushed down the toilet.

        Oh and he was a passionate traditionalist with martinis. That I respect.

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