Judge Robert Bork, 1927-2012, died today, age 85. His friend John Podhoretz writes his obituary:
Perhaps the most important legal scholar of his day, whose work on matters ranging from anti-trust to the complexities of privacy laws was both accessible and deeply considered, Bork was exactly the sort of choice serious-minded people should have welcomed. The Court had been in large measure the province of lightweights who were considered politically safe or somehow controllable, men who possessed no intellectual compass and were either the captives of their clerks or of the conventional wisdom. His nomination did the Court credit. It was an effort to elevate it.
But no. Nothing like the campaign to deny Bork the Supreme Court had ever been seen before. It was a systematic campaign of personal destruction undertaken by liberal interest groups who had come to see the growing conservatism of the Reagan-era judiciary as an existential threat to them. Only a year earlier, Antonin Scalia had been affirmed by a 98-0 vote in the Senate, but in the interim, Democrats had taken hold of the body in the 1986 elections and the stage was set for a new era of personal destruction in the pursuit of a supposedly higher good.
I had the honor of briefly meeting Judge Bork a few years ago. He was one of the most brilliant men of our times. Adam J. White points out that
The changed course of future Supreme Court nominations was the Bork nomination’s most obvious legacy, but that was not its only legacy. Indeed, the Bork nomination’s most significant impact may be not the manner in which Supreme Court justices are selected, but rather the content of constitutional law itself. For while Bork himself was pilloried for embracing an originalist approach to constitutional law, his nomination’s failure laid the basis for originalism’s eventual success. The Bork hearings galvanized conservatives and challenged them to refine originalism to achieve greater political effectiveness.
White concludes, “Only 25 years after Robert Bork suffered public defeat at the hands of Ted Kennedy and the left, the most interesting question in constitutional law is not whether conservatives can prevail with originalism, but whether liberals can prevail without it. Welcome to Robert Bork’s America.”