Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Bork, whose failed Supreme Court bid made history, dies
Reaction » Sen. Orrin Hatch, who voted to confirm Bork, calls him “a true lion of the law.”

< Previous Page

In a statement Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who voted to confirm Bork, called him "a true lion of the law."

"After many years in public service, Judge Bork thankfully remained a teacher and educated countless students of the law about what it means to take the Constitution seriously. He was a dear friend who deserved to be on the Supreme Court," Hatch said.

Robert Bork: 5 ways his nomination influenced America

Storified by Digital First Media · Wed, Dec 19 2012 07:55:02

Legal scholar Robert Bork, who died early this morning, never got to sit on the Supreme Court. His 1987 nomination by President Ronald Reagan ended in defeat, a rarity in court politics. But, for better or worse, that experience had a major influence on American politics.
Below, five things that came about because of Robert Bork.

The verb 'to bork'

Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court was a particularly brutal fight, with opponents such as Sen. Ted Kennedy using harsh language to criticize his legal views. After he was defeated, political observers began using the verb "to bork" to signal harsh obstruction of a candidate. The word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2002.

A more liberal Supreme Court

When Bork was defeated, Reagan nominated Douglas Ginsburg, who withdrew after admitting using marijuana, and then Anthony Kennedy, who was confirmed. Though Kennedy is a conservative, he voted to uphold Roe v. Wade, overturn sodomy laws and question the legality of a Guantanamo Bay detention.

Video rental privacy

During Bork's nomination hearing, a copy of his video rental records was leaked. In response, Congress made it a crime to disclose someone's rentals of videos, DVDs or even video games. Companies such as Netflix are now trying to change the law, which prevents them from integrating with social media site Facebook.

Ugly confirmation hearings

When President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, some Democratic activists said they wanted to "bork" him. If anything, Thomas' hearings were even more brutal, focusing on a sexual harassment allegation, though ultimately he was confirmed.

A more boring judicial system

The Bork and Thomas confirmation hearings were so ugly that presidents began nominating candidates who were less controversial. Judges who hoped to be nominated one day began saying less interesting things. And nominees began avoiding answering even basic questions about the Constitution.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., summed up the opposition at the time by saying, "In Robert Bork’s America there is no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women."

Critics also called Bork a free-speech censor and a danger to the principle of separation of church and state.

Bork’s opponents used his prolific writings against him, and some called him a hypocrite when he seemed to waffle on previous strongly worded positions.

Despite a reputation for personal charm, Bork did not play well on television. He answered questions in a seemingly bloodless, academic style and he cut a severe figure, with hooded eyes and heavy, rustic beard.

Stoic and stubborn throughout, Bork refused to withdraw when his defeat seemed assured.

The fight has defined every high-profile judicial nomination since, and largely established the opposing roles of vocal and well-funded interest groups in Senate nomination fights. Bork would say later that the ferocity of the fight took him and the Reagan White House by surprise, and he rebuked the administration for not doing more to salvage his nomination.

The process begat a verb, "to bork," meaning vilification of a nominee on ideological grounds. In later years, some accused Bork of borking Clinton nominees with nearly the zeal that some liberal commentators had pursued him.

Bork denied any animus, and said he was happy commenting, writing and making money outside government. Even friends did not entirely believe that.

story continues below
story continues below

"He was very embittered by the experience," said lawyer Andrew Frey, a longtime friend who worked for Bork in the solicitor general’s office. "He was not well treated, and partly as a result of that he did become more conservative."


Sherman contributed from Washington.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.