The establishment did not know what to do with him. Friendly, compassionate and gifted with a massive intellect, Robert Bork defined the sophisticated conservative.
Probably because of that, progressives determined he could not be allowed on the high court, and their campaign of destruction kept him from serving as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. It was America’s loss.
Bork, the conservatives’ conservative, died in Arlington, Va., aged 85, of complications from heart disease. His second wife, Mary Bork, his three children and two grandchildren survive him. His first wife, Claire Bork, predeceased him.
Bork was among the major figures who died in 2012, including Neil Armstrong and George McGovern.
While his career as a judge will be remembered for his blocked nomination to the Supreme Court, Bork’s legacy of service is far deeper. He always did his duty.
He was born March 1, 1927, in Pittsburgh, Pa. Seventeen years later, with a world at war, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After the war, he attended the University of Chicago, graduating in 1948. He attended law school, but in the middle of his studies duty called again. This time he donned the Marine uniform as an officer and served his country in the Korean conflict. He returned to the United States and completed his law degree in 1953.
It was during this time that he became a principled conservative. He also made time for a family. In 1952, he married Claire Davidson. The couple had three children and remained married until her death from cancer in 1980.
Bork practiced law for nearly a decade before he joined the faculty of Yale in 1962. He sensed the change that was coming. He was alarmed that the push for civil rights was giving a cover to government interference in the private decisions of the American people that had nothing to do with ending segregation or Jim Crow. He was concerned that the First Amendment was being used to protect acts that had nothing to do with speech.
His prescient warnings often were unheeded, but his talents were not unnoticed. For more than three years he was the solicitor general of the United States. He first served President Richard Nixon and continued in his post under Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford.
It was during the Nixon administration that he first gained the animosity of progressives. When Nixon decided to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, there was uproar on the left. The attorney general and the deputy attorney general resigned rather than comply with the president. Bork did what he saw as his duty. As the third in line at the Justice Department, he fired Cox and his staff, an event that became known by the embellished name of “Saturday Night Massacre.”
He took issue with a subordinate member of the executive branch publicly defying the constitutional chief executive. As he saw it, Cox had to go.
After Ford’s defeat in 1976, Bork returned to academia, and when his first wife died in 1980, he returned to law.
It was 1981 when President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He was confirmed in 1982 and served until 1988.
In 1987, Reagan nominated Bork to replace the retiring Justice Lewis Powell on the U.S. Supreme Court.
It took, literally, minutes for left-leaning influences to attack him personally and forever end the professionalism of Supreme Court nomination hearings.
Bork was assailed with thinly veiled accusations of racism by the left months before the first hearing was held. The ACLU openly opposed him. Feminists attacked him for opposing Roe v. Wade. Commercials were run against him.
While Bork appeared cast for the role of a justice of the high court, then sporting a beard fit for an Athenian sage, his statement that the Supreme Court would be an “intellectual feast” may have been too much for the minds on the Senate judiciary committee. They rejected him 9-5.
He knew what was at stake. He spoke from the White House on Oct. 10, 1987.
He said in part: “The tactics and techniques of national political campaigns have been unleashed on the process of confirming judges. That is not simply disturbing, it is dangerous. Federal judges are not appointed to decide cases according to the latest opinion polls. They are appointed to decide cases impartially according to law. But when judicial nominees are assessed and treated like political candidates, the effect will be to chill the climate in which judicial deliberations take place, to erode public confidence in the impartiality of courts and to endanger the independence of the judiciary.”
After the Oct. 23, 1987, vote in which the left prevailed, he left the judiciary but continued to warn against the distortion of the Constitution and assaults on the dignity of the law.
In 1996, he published “Slouching Toward Gomorrah,” declaring that American civilization was in moral decline. He saw as few others did that the country for which he had twice put on the Marine uniform was disintegrating.
The Bush-led Republican Party did not heed his warnings, and the results have included the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2008.
Part 1 of review of those who died in 2012:
Part 2 of review of those who died in 2012:
Among the other celebrities who died in 2012 were:
- Moon astronaut Neil Armstrong
- "McHale's Navy" actor Ernest Borgnine
- Songwriter and pianist Dave Brubeck
- Hollywood personality Dick Clark
- Comedian and actor Richard Dawson
- Film actress and comedienne Phyllis Diller
- Singer Robin Gibb
- Actor Andy Griffith
- Publisher Helen Gurley Brown
- Actor Larry Hagman
- Musician Marvin Hamlisch
- Actor Sherman Hemsley
- Singer Whitney Houston
- Singer Etta James
- Actor Davy Jones
- Mary Kennedy
- South Dakota politician former presidential candidate George McGovern
- Leftist activist Russell Means
- Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon
- Football coach Joe Paterno
- Astronaut Sally Ride
- Musician Earl Scruggs
- Musician Ravi Shanker
- Journalist Mike Wallace
- Singer Andy Williams
- Sen. Daniel Inouye
- Sen. Arlen Specter