Robert Bork, Supreme Court Nominee, Dies at 85

BY Cassie M. Chew  December 19, 2012 at 1:04 PM EDT

Bork Testifies at Supreme Court Confirmation HearingJudge Robert Bork testifies at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 1987. Photo by CNP/Getty Images

On Sept. 18, 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Robert Bork, testifies on the fourth day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in Washington D.C. (Photo by CNP/Getty Images)

Federal judge and former solicitor general Robert H. Bork died Wednesday at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., of complications from heart disease, according to the Associated Press. He was 85.

He is best known for his failed nomination to serve on the nation’s highest court. In 1987 President Ronald Reagan nominated the conservative jurist to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the retirement of moderate Justice Lewis Powell.

Congressional Democrats derailed the nomination with an aggressive campaign that branded him as an extremist.


“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is, and is often the only, protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy,” the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said on the Senate floor in opposition to Bork’s nomination.

The negative campaign added a new word to the American lexicon. “Borked,” emerged as a verb used to describe the attack of a nominee based on his or her political ideology.

The nomination of Bork was a major turning point on how we have hearings today, said Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal. She spoke with PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan in June, 2010, just before the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. You can watch their conversation below:

Bork served this year as senior judicial adviser to the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, according to news reports.

As a jurist, Bork adopted a strict interpretation of the U.S. constitution. His writings include, “The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law” (1990), “Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline” (1996) and “Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges” (2003).

Robert Heron Bork was born in Pittsburgh, Mar. 1, 1927, to Harry Bork, a purchasing agent with a steel company and his wife, Elizabeth Kunkle, an English teacher. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1944. After the war, he attended the University of Chicago, interrupting his studies to serve as an officer in the Korean War, according to news reports. He eventually earned his law degree in 1953.

Bork then maintained a private law practice and taught at Yale Law School between 1962 and 1975 and again between 1977 and 1981, according to news reports. His students included Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Anita Hill and Robert Reich.

Bork’s survivors include a second wife, Mary Ellen Pohl of McLean, Va.; three children from his first marriage, Robert H. Bork Jr. of McLean, Va., Charles Bork of Seattle, Wash., and Ellen Bork of Washington, according to news reports. He also is survived by two grandchildren.