Bob Bork

Others more qualified than I will tell you about his monumental contribution to the law, and there is no doubt he will be remembered for a very long time.  My favorite measurement of a man’s significance is the number of enemies he stimulates and the desperate measures to which they resort in order to destroy him.  By this measure, Bork was a giant.  The vulgar campaign against his nomination to the Supreme Court–spearheaded by Senator Ted Kennedy and embraced by Senator Joseph Biden–was so intense that it produced a new verb “to bork,” to describe the actions of political lynch mobs.


Bob was one of the great public intellectuals, but unlike most deep thinkers he had a fabulous sense of humor, featuring timing so perfect that I once told him that he’d missed his calling.  Instead of wasting his time with issues of Constitutional Law, he should have been a stand-up nightclub comedian.  He presented the annual AEI award to Justice Thomas one year, and the introduction/presentation was the equal of any Hollywood roast.  That sparkling wit stayed with him to the end, even as his body gave way and he was increasingly immobile.

He loved good movies, especially detective films, and happily watched the tv series about Nero Wolfe, based on the great Rex Stout novels.  He was delighted when we gave him a copy of “The Usual Suspects,” which he had somehow missed.

Like many great legal thinkers, he had an uncanny ability to get to the heart of complicated moral and philosophical issues, which you can see on display in his books about the degeneration of American culture.  They are so unrelentingly gloomy that I once asked him if there wasn’t at least one central ingredient in our culture that he thought worth saving.  There was!  “Absolutely,” he replied instantly…”the martini.”  He knew a lot about martinis, and if you had the time he’d explain its history, its mystery, and its proper handling and shaking.  But of course he was often horrified by the “barbaric” additions of unworthy fruits and veggies to his favorite drink.  No doubt the worst of his afflictions was the requirement he abandon the martini.  Second worst was having to give up the inhalation of burning tobacco leaves.


He took great pride in his service in the Marine Corps.  Hardly anybody knows that he was a tanker, but he regaled us with stories about his time curled up inside the armored tin can, as with his skill on the tuba.  Yes.  If only he’d given Senator Kennedy a few good oompahs…

The good news is that there will be 16 Marines at graveside Saturday, which will please him.

He bore his long illness with a mixture of self-deprecation, anger, and wit, he delighted in good food always, he maintained his fabulous intellect to the end, and we always came away from visits with the knowledge that we had been in the presence of a great American. It would not have been possible for him to bear his burdens as well as he did without his deep faith and his great love, both of which flowed from Mary Ellen, a truly remarkable woman, and the kids.  I have a special bond with Ellen, who was working with me while her dad was being tortured by the Senate Judiciary Committee…

Lucky man. And lucky us, to have known him.


See also Roger Kimball’s tribute.


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