Judge Robert H. Bork, one of the the greatest jurists this country has ever produced, died early this morning from heart complications in a Virginia hospital near his home. He was 85.
Bork was a national celebrity. Several years ago, my wife and I visited the Borks in Maine where they had taken a summer house off Somes Sound. I cannot count the times that total strangers would approach us at a lobster shack or park asking to shake the Judge’s hand and to assure him of their admiration and support.
Bork’s celebrity was only partly conferred upon him by brilliant legal work and his service as solicitor general and then acting attorney general in the tumultuous Watergate years of the Nixon administration. (Andrew McCarthy wrote an excellent summary of Judge Bork’s work in The New Criterion a few years ago: “Robert H. Bork on Law and Life.”) But by far the most important fuel for fame was the riveting, not to say obscene, attack upon his candidacy for the Supreme Court in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan.
The vicious campaign waged against Judge Bork set a new low—possibly never exceeded—in the exhibition of unbridled leftist venom, indeed hate. Reporters combed through the Borks trash hoping to find compromising tidbits; they inspected his movie rentals, and were disgusted to find the films of John Wayne liberally represented. So hysterical was the campaign against Judge Bork that a new transitive verb entered our political vocabulary: “To Bork,” scruple at nothing in order to discredit and defeat a political figure. 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.