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The Irony of Robert Bork The Irony of Robert Bork The Irony of Robert Bork The Irony of Robert Bork

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Homepage / JUDICIARY

The Irony of Robert Bork

He wanted the courts out of politics but politics did him in.

Judge Robert Bork, nominated by President Reagan to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, is sworn before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill at his confirmation hearing, Sept. 15, 1987. ((AP Photo/John Duricka))

photo of Matthew Cooper
December 19, 2012

There are already lots of appraisals pouring in about the brilliant jurist Robert Bork. John Podhoretz has an encomium in Commentary echoing Bork's own explanation of his central belief that politics is best left to politicians and judges should be restrained and merely interpret the law--a line that Republican candidates repeat as if by rote.

Whether or not you accept this sense of self at face value or not, there is an irony to Bork's career. He wanted politics left to politicians and yet it was politics in all its messiness and ugliness that undid his Supreme Court nomination. Liberal interest groups targeted him and even some GOP Senators like Arlen Specter abandonned him when his nomination came before the Senate. Not surprisingly Bork was angered by this but he shouldn't have been surprised that politics made a difference in a political chamber. You want politics? This is it.

It's interesting to speculate about Bork had he made it to the court. Since the seat for which he was nominated went to Anthony Kennedy, the answer is probably a very big deal. The court probably wouldn't have affirmed abortion rights or struck down sodomy laws. Would Bork have shown more restraint in Citizens United where the conservatives seemed to all to eager to overturn laws and precedent on campaign finance. Would he have overturned the Affordable Care Act? I suspect there are many Americans who feel Bork was mistreated but are also glad that Anthony Kennedy is on the Court nonetheless.

 

By all accounts, Bork was fun and interesting and one of the really grand figures of Washington even if his book title, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, suggested a scold. He converted to Catholicism with the help of Fr. C. John McCloskey and opus dei priest who assisted the late journalist Robert Novak and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to Catholicism. (Bork's widow is a former nun.) I know his daughter Ellen a bit and wish her and her family the best. A giant's fallen.

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