Robert Bork was not only an extraordinary and effective jurist, he was also a crucial figure in American conservatism.
In reporting news of his death certain media are – as here, running ‘Controversial conservative jurist Robert Bork dead at 85’ type headlines.
As Roger Kimball points out in his piece here, the only reason Bork was ever considered ‘controversial’ was that when he was put forward as a candidate for the Supreme Court during the Reagan administration he was smeared and libelled in the most despicable way by Edward Kennedy. As Kimball writes:
‘The so-called “Lion of the Senate,” Ted Kennedy… stood on the Senate floor and emitted a serious of calumnious lies designed not simply to prevent Judge Bork from being appointed to the Supreme Court but to soil his character irretrievably…
A breathtaking congeries of falsehoods that, were they not protected by the prerogatives of senatorial privilege, would have taken a conspicuous place in the annals of malicious slander and character assassination. In The Tempting of America, Judge Bork recounts his incredulity at this tissue of malign fabrication. “It had simply never occurred to me that anybody could misrepresent my career and views as Kennedy did.” At the time, he notes, many people thought that Kennedy had blundered by emitting so flagrant, and flagrantly untrue, an attack. They were wrong. His “calculated personal assault, . . . more violent than any against a judicial nominee in our country’s history,” did the job (with a little help from Joe Biden and Arlen Specter). Not only was Kennedy instrumental in preventing a great jurist from taking his place on the Supreme Court, he also contributed immeasurably to the cheapening of American political discourse.’
Robert Bork deserves to be remembered for many things. But it is best to remember him not for this controversy, nor the despicable treatment he was forced to endure, but for his eminence as a jurist, his influence as a thinker and his profound intelligence and decency as a man.