One oif the most brilliant legal minds of the 20th century is gone. Judge Robert Bork, whose nomination by Ronald Reagan for Supreme Court Justice changed the court and the nomination process, died of heart complications in Virginia today.
His name became a verb: To be "borked" means, as Roger Kimball explains, "scruple at nothing in order to discredit and defeat a political figure." The campaign waged against Bork has never been equalled. In vitriol, venom, and outright hate, it was obscene.
Monsieur Guillotine gave his name to that means of execution; "progressives," those leftists haters of America who have so disfigured our national life since the 1960s, gave us the this new form of character assassination. The so-called "Lion of the Senate," Ted Kennedy, surely one of the most despicable men ever to hold high public office in the United States (yes, that's saying something), 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. "Robert Bork's America," quoth Kennedy,
is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit down at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of democracy.
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.
Bork will be remembered mostly for his nomination fight. But in truth, he had a brilliant mind and was a leading light of the Originalist school of legal scholarship.