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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.

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