Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Obituary: Robert Bork

Far-right former judge and one-time solicitor general Robert Bork, 85, has died. Bork was well known in right-wing circles but then became a household name when in 1987 President Reagan nominated him for the United States Supreme Court. Thanks to his off-the-wall ideas about the Constitution and other judicial matters, he failed to get the job. His name became synonymous with being denied a high court job ("borked").

Unfortunately, Bork's batshit ideas became more mainstream with the appointment of people like Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts. Nowadays, justices can literally make shit up about the Constitution and not have to follow precedent at all (see the court's birdbrained decisions on "gun rights" and campaign finance, to say nothing of Jones v. Clinton or Bush v. Gore).

I remember Bork best when in 1973, as President Nixon's solicitor general, he did Nixon's dirty work of firing Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox when Nixon officials Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus refused to do so and resigned for standing up for the rule of law. The firing and resignations became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre." Bork's action in this matter alone disqualified him from any kind of high court position.

However, Bork served many years as an appellate judge but quit after losing the high court bid. He found more lucrative ways to support himself than being a mere judge.

Some clips of the Bork hearings via PBS. Among other things, Bork tries to explain his firing of Archibald Cox:

From the linked obituary:

His defeat – the last time the Senate has rejected a Supreme Court nominee -- was an outcome that weakened Reagan, left conservatives bitter, and resulted ultimately in the nomination and confirmation of Judge Anthony Kennedy, whose sometimes liberal views have chagrined many Republicans.

Kennedy is still serving and is the high court’s swing vote.

Within 45 minutes of Reagan’s announcement of Bork as his nominee to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of swing justice Lewis Powell, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D- Mass., went to the Senate floor to deliver a scathing assault on him. “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, school children could not be taught about evolution, writers and artist could be censured at the whim of government,” Kennedy said.

NYT obit:

It is rare for the Senate in its constitutional “advice and consent” role to turn down a president’s Supreme Court nominee, and rarer still for that rejection to be based not on qualifications but on judicial philosophy and temperament. That turned Judge Bork’s defeat into a watershed event and his name into a verb: getting “borked” is what happens to a nominee rejected for what supporters consider political motives.

The success of the anti-Bork campaign is widely seen to have shifted the tone and emphasis of Supreme Court nominations since then, giving them an often strong political cast and making it hard, many argue, for a nominee with firmly held views ever to get confirmed.

Till the end of his life, Judge Bork argued that American judges, acting to please a liberal elite, have hijacked the struggle over national values by overstepping their role, especially in many of the most important decisions on civil rights and liberties, personal autonomy and regulation of business.

Bork was an ideologue more than a dispassionate interpreter of the Constitution, a Scalia twin.

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