Former federal judge Robert Bork has died today of heart disease.
His name was made into a verb, “to bork,” as in this:
Following Bork’s nomination to the [Supreme] Court [by Reagan in 1987], Sen. Ted Kennedy took to the Senate floor with a strong condemnation of Bork declaring:
“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 … President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”
Bork responded, “There was not a line in that speech that was accurate.” In an obituary of Kennedy, The Economist remarked that Bork may well have been correct, “but it worked.” Bork also contended in his best-selling book, The Tempting of America, that the brief prepared for Sen. Joe Biden, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “so thoroughly misrepresented a plain record that it easily qualifies as world class in the category of scurrility.”
Alas, as the Economist said, “it worked.” And it still works, on and on and on, including the “work” of Joe Biden.
Bork was undoubtedly a legal scholar of the highest caliber. Only problem for the left—and it was a big one—was that he wasn’t their scholar.
There are several ironies in Bork’s life and death. One of them, pointed out today by Steven Hayward at Powerline, was that:
…[T]he serious [as opposed to scurrilous] criticism of Bork’s jurisprudence would come from the Right, rather than the Left (though it was not disqualifying for the Court, to be sure). Bork, like Scalia, was a strict textualist, and has little regard for the natural law tradition of the American founding, or its implication, for example, in the Ninth Amendment.
Hayward notes another irony:
…[H]ad Bork been confirmed to the Court, his passing today…would have opened up an appointment for President Obama to name a new Justice and tip the Court to the Left. Instead, the man Reagan put in the seat Bork would have filled, Anthony Kennedy, will carry on, determined, I am reliably told, to serve at least until Obama is gone in part because he was offended by Obama’s demagogic attack on the Citizens United decision that Kennedy wrote.
Another irony is this:
Perhaps the best known use of the verb to bork occurred in July 1991 at a conference of the National Organization for Women in New York City. Feminist Florynce Kennedy addressed the conference on the importance of defeating the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. She said, “We’re going to bork him. We’re going to kill him politically … This little creep, where did he come from?”
Thomas, of course, is still on the Court. And as for “where the little creep came from,” Ms. Kennedy (who died in 2000) lost the chance to read Thomas’s fine autobiography My Grandfather’s Son, but in the “up-from-poverty-and-terrible-hardship” sweepstakes, Thomas won hands-down over fellow black (and fellow-memoirist) Kennedy.
But back to Bork. Hayward writes of his confirmation hearings that they left the legacy of “a permanently warped judicial confirmation process that now reaches lower judicial appointments.” There are many watersheds in American history; Bork’s non-confirmation was one of them.
[NOTE: I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons “bork” became so popular as a verb is the way it sounds.]